Small Charity Week

The Challenges of Small Charity Trustee Recruitment

Blog post   •   Jun 06, 2018 11:02 BST

Panic stations

As a small charity we rely on our trustees to take an active role in our work. We’re not a ‘two board meetings a year' kind of organisation, our trustees are expected to roll their sleeves up and get involved at every level, from creating policies and developing strategy to working directly with our young people. Needless to say, it can be difficult to recruit the right people to ICYE UK’s board of trustees.

Recently we’ve faced issues that have pushed our small charity to crisis point. The Brexit vote hit us hard financially when the exchange rate took a tumble, we’ve struggled to compete with the shorter 10-week, 80% government DFID funded, international volunteering programme, ICS, and the uncertainty over whether we’ll be able to access EU funding for volunteer placements from after 2020. We faced another stark challenge in late 2017, when nearly half our board stepped down. With lots of challenges ahead we knew we would have to recruit the best possible candidates for our three empty seats.

Reaching out

Traditionally, we’ve focused on recruiting our trustees from our membership, this means our volunteers, former staff and supporters. But, following a skills assessment we found that in order to deliver our strategy, we needed to fill our board’s skills gap through targeted recruitment, going above and beyond our usual processes. Already a very diverse board of trustees we were mindful to not only maintain this diversity, but champion it throughout our recruitment process.

Each ICYE UK trustee is assigned a portfolio to manage, mine is fundraising and marketing. We decided to take this one step further and create even more specific titles and roles like, Quality, Compliance and Impact trustee (shout-out to my fellow trustee Cleo for her work on this!). We had no budget for board recruitment, so we took advantage of free trustee recruitment services and online advertising. The recruitment process took a lot of board time but low and behold, applications slowly trickled in from people with the exact skills we were looking for.

Election night

ICYE UK trustees are democratically elected at our AGM by our members, with candidates giving a three-minute speech followed by a brief questions and answers session. As always, we put our faith in our members to choose the right people for ICYE UK, explaining the needs of the charity at the start of the day. Our potential trustees were given a real grilling, with question ranging from the comedic, ‘Have you ever cooked a curry for 100 people?’ (trust me, this is a key skill for any ICYE UK trustee) to the serious, ‘How will you ensure we stay true to our ethical volunteering principles?’. The day ended with the empty positions filled and our new trustees bringing experience in the fields of membership, monitoring and evaluation and innovative leadership.

A brave new world

We were a small charity looking for a very specific kind of trustee, but through investing our time we were able to spend nothing, recruit completely new people to the board and gain the skills we so desperately needed. Our new board is as diverse as any organisation that promotes cultural exchange and understanding could hope to be, led by a female chairperson, embracing people of different faiths, sexualities, ages (with a young average age of 36!), ethnicities and experiences. This year ICYE UK is turning 25 and our board, of old and new trustees, is leading the celebrations together, with a big birthday party fundraiser just after Small Charity Week. It’s still early days but we’re hopeful that our reinvigorated board will help us to continue our work with young people and NGOs in the UK and overseas, for as long as we’re needed.


My name is Jasmine and since 2014 I’ve been a trustee of ICYE UK, a unique international youth volunteering and cultural exchange charity. We place international volunteers with UK charities and send UK volunteers to support NGOs overseas, with a focus on sustainable and ethical practice. Outside of ICYE UK, I’m a campaigner with a UK disability charity.

ICYE UK Links:

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter