Trustee Awareness Research 2017

Taken on Trust: Download the full report

Our new report (launched November 2017) in partnership with the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants provides the most comprehensive picture of trusteeship in a generation, and recommends that charity boards do more to promote diversity and encourage applications from trustees from non-traditional backgrounds.

The research also finds that charity trustees, who are overwhelmingly volunteers, feel positively about their role and about the personal reward and satisfaction it gives them. It also highlights that trustees' contribution to charities amounts to a monetary equivalent of around £3.5 billion a year.

View the Cass CCE summary of the report 

Encouraging diversity might be achieved through implementation of a national campaign, supported and promoted by government and the Charity Commission, promoting the worth of charity trusteeship and the benefits it delivers to clients and beneficiaries, to society at large and to those who act as trustees themselves.

Stephen Lee, Professor of Voluntary Sector Management, Centre for Charity Effectiveness, Cass Business School

Taken on Trust: The Awareness of Charity Trustees in England and Wales

We surveyed a random sample of 19,064 trustees, via a national survey in January 2017. The survey showed that the number of active charity trustees in England and Wales is around 700,000 - significantly fewer than the commonly reported figure of 950,000.

The report, which was commissioned by the Charity Commission and the Office for civil society, found that men outnumber women trustees on boards by two to one, a finding which was reflected in the role of the Chair and Treasurer. The majority of trustees tend to be white British, older and above average income and education.

Trustees reported that they lacked relevant legal, digital, fundraising, marketing and campaigning skills at board level and were concerned about their skills in dealing with fraud and external cyber attack.

The lead researcher was Professor Stephen Lee of the Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness. Stephen reports that it is essential that charity boards reflect the diverse societies that they operate in, with support needed to introduce different people, new ideas, skills and experience to boards, and to target the recruitment of trustees from more diverse sections of society.

There is a danger that charity trustee boards might become myopic in their views and in their decision making. We found that boards could be overly reliant upon fellow trustees for both recruitment of new trustees and for their principal sources of advice and support.

Professor Lee recommends that trustees need particular formal support to develop their digital skills.

The Charity Commission and the Office for Civil Society, along with other key stakeholders in the charity sector, should review and enhance their advice, support and communications to reflect and draw upon developments in digital technology to enable trustees to gain the skills they need to perform their duties in today’s society.

Professor Lee states that many findings in the report that were a cause for celebration and many trustees felt extremely positive about their work.

This is the first comprehensive research of the Charity Commission Register of Trustee Roles. The findings contained in this report dispel a number of previously prevailing myths about charity trusteeship. 90 per cent of trustees find the role personally rewarding and regard it as important or very important to them. The monetary value that their voluntary service delivers to society is estimated at £3.5 billion per annum – a significant amount.  Trustees now need the right support and training to continue to develop and lead their organisations.

Download the full Taken on Trust 2017 report 

View the Cass CCE summary of the report

Centre for Charity Effectiveness

Cass Business School
106 Bunhill Row

T: +44 (0)20 7040 0901
Twitter: @CassCCE

The report was commissioned by the Charity Commission and the Office for Civil Society and was partly funded by the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants.  The authors are Professor Stephen Lee, Professor of Voluntary Sector Management, Centre for Charity Effectiveness, Cass Business School, Dr Bob Harris, Pro-bono Consultant, Worshipful Company of Management Consultants, Nikki Stickland, Charity Commission, and Silvani Pesenti, Cass Business School.

Media enquiries:

Amy Ripley, Senior Communications Officer, Cass Business School

T: +44 (0) 20 7040 3134


Related reports:The two further reports connected to this research can be viewed below:

Taken on Trust: provider perspective on advice and support to charity trustees

Charity Commissions response to Taken on Trust research