Case study: Widening the skills base on the Board

Alison Richmond, Institute of Conservation 

1. Summary of the development/change and who led it

Recruitment through advertising of 4 co-opted lay members onto Board of Trustees. Chair recruited through advertising.

2. Drivers for the development/change

  • Although our Articles of Association allowed for up to four co-opted (lay) trustees, these seats had gradually been filled by emeritus members of the profession. Icon had lost the benefit of different, external perspectives.
  • A review of governance identified the need for different skills in order for the organisation to go to the next level and we advertised for “people who can bring external perspectives and new skills to our Board, help us develop strategically and spread our influence.” In the first round, we specifically sought people with finance and marketing experience.
  • The Chair had always been elected by a process of nomination by the Board via a secret ballot with the membership being invited to nominate its own candidate. Apart from the first Chair, all candidates were from the Board. The latter never happened so it was clearly an ineffective way of involving the membership.

3. Date implementation started and stage reached by December 2015

We first advertised in September 2013. We had two rounds of advertisements, one in September 2013 to co-opt 3 new trustees and one in 2014 to co-opt 2 new trustees and a new chair. Recruitment of chair was unsuccessful, so was reviewed and tried again in 2015 with success. By December 2015, we have three co-opted Trustees external to the profession and a new co-opted Chair (who happens to be a member of the profession but was selected from a shortlist of applicants (4 including 2 external) in a rigorous recruitment process).

4. Outcomes to date

  • Board papers and board meetings have been streamlined and Board business is much more effectively managed, allowing for more time for strategic thinking. Board has fully engaged with planning for the next strategic period.
  • Icon is already more externally facing.
    • Icon committed reserves to a complete redesign of its out of date website, a project that was hugely helped by a new and very knowledgeable trustee, and hired a Digital Content Officer to create content for web and social media.
    • Raising public and policy profile of Icon was identified as one of three key strategic themes.
    • The Board now writes a “public” report on its business.
  • The Board is engaging with income generation and fundraising, and fully supporting the Chief Executive.

5. Main challenges /barriers that had to be overcome and how this was achieved

  • Confidence. Icon trustees and staff needed to have enough confidence in “external” people being interested enough in our world to take on a trusteeship.
  • Energy. An energetic and passionate trustee was needed who was prepared to drive this change within the framework of the governance review and to lead on the recruitment drive.
  • Consensus. We had to work through strongly held differences of opinion about how the Chair, in particular, should be recruited and whether it should be restricted to members of the profession and by a process of election by the membership or appointment by the Board.

6. Lessons learned/ advice to others considering similar developments 

  • Perseverance. It can take a long time to get it right but it is worth sticking with it. Icon is a much more effective organisation as a result of these changes.
  • External/lay trustees stir thing up. Diversity of experience and opinion has brought nothing but good to Icon.
  • New skills brought onto the board will have benefits that you may not anticipate. We are still in the midst of strategic planning and already the trustees are guiding this in surprizing directions, for example, putting a new emphasis on the development of a non-professional (supporter) membership category.
  • As a Chief Executive, I value the contributions that these new trustees are making. Each and every one have supported my work in their individual and collective ways.
  • The process of recruitment made us think carefully about how we present ourselves, what we needed and what skills we were asking for. As a result of the first round, we revised our recruitment information an job description so that it did not sound like the applicant had to have hung the moon in order to apply!