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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Succession: Charity changes should not only come at times of emergency

This opinion piece is about 1 year old

David Dunsire discusses why succession planning needs to be part of the day-to-day for charities - not just for emergencies

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, once famously said.

His are words as relevant today as they were when first uttered - and particularly so in the third sector as charities and social enterprises look to properly equip themselves for the post-pandemic world.

And it’s an issue that I am looking forward to hearing explored in more depth during the latest of the Chairs Network Scotland events to be staged by ACOSVO on 2 September, focusing on succession planning.

During many years of working with charities and being a trustee myself, I know how easy it is for the day-to-day to overtake the need to look at succession planning for boards of trustees. That is unless it becomes part of the day-to-day.

Anyone involved in the sector needs to see this area of work for what it is: A key part of protecting your organisation’s future by providing both continuity and renewal to your board.

Don’t wait for an emergency to enforce change - plan for them, put contingencies in place and embrace it when the time comes.

Thankfully, many charities now make succession planning part of their governance cycle, including scheduling regular skills audits, having yearly chats with trustees about their intentions and perhaps forming sub-committees to spearhead their valuable work. It’s my experience that this positions them well to deal with both planned and unplanned succession issues.

With research by charities regulator OSCR showing that a third of charities in Scotland recruit trustees every year, the importance of getting this right is clear. No-one wants to be in a position of constant firefighting to attract and retain people (and that can extend to senior management positions too).

As Covid-19 restrictions ease and fundraisers can start to look forward with more certainty, good chairs will be looking at the skills needed at the top table to ensure the organisations they lead are best equipped to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.

So, there are five key things that I would encourage boards to consider when planning to recruit new trustees:

  1. Get your board on board. Remind trustees and senior staff that ensuring your board is quorate is an essential part of your charity’s risk and reputational management, governance and regulatory requirements.
  2. Map where you are and where you want to go. Check that your trustees’ skills are suited to dealing with your challenges, opportunities, strategy and context. A skills audit doesn’t have to be a major undertaking: it could just be a chat or short questionnaire.
  3. Make a recruitment plan. There should be a plan for replacing each trustee - including the chair. Extending the skills mix and diversity is also wise.
  4. Think differently in your recruitment and succession processes. OSCR has found that 72% of charities find new trustees by word of mouth. This can be practical and cost-effective, but it can also mean forfeiting diversity. Look at options including utilising social media, advertising and professional networks to reach a wider audience.
  5. Good planning involves more than just recruitment. Recruitment needs to  be matched with induction, ongoing training and leadership development. This applies especially, but not exclusively, if you want younger or more diverse trustees and leaders, and retain them.

All charities need strong succession planning. As with so many governance tasks, making it part of your “business as usual” routine reduces the risk of it causing a headache. The value of getting this right cannot be underestimated.

For more details about the Chairs Network Scotland Event supported by Lindsays - Prepare Your Board for the Future: Succession Planning for Chairs - on September 2, go to

David Dunsire is a consultant at Lindsays



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