Coronavirus: Advice for your organisation 


Volunteering and coronavirus: How you can help



Tesse Akpeki, director, Tesse Akpeki Associates

  • It is a very disruptive period we are in as a country, and governance and leadership in all forms are essential to shaping our responses to current crises
  • Charities will need to be responding to the challenges of today, and their boards can lead on this. It is important to have diversity of thought at the core of this
  • A call to action: we need to stop talking and start doing things, we need to start with understanding inclusion and equity, we need to make the messages and the environment more accessible: people need to see people that are like them, otherwise they are not going to come into an organisation and stay there
  • When you look at ‘De-coding the Charity Governance Code’ diversity fell the worst of all 7 parts of the code, so bad in fact that the second worst part was twice as good
  • Organisations must invest in diversity – building in accountability measures and reward action. If you look at the sports world, in the sports governing code it rewards organisations for their diversity, we should learn from this. Funders must do more to encourage diversity within the organisations they fund
  • Chairs also have a role in bringing people in and making sure they are heard on boards. They must recognise which voices are not around the table and actively work towards ensuring that changes
  • I encourage people to read Julia Unwin’s report on Kindness that concludes that we in Britain could be a little kinder. We need to start understanding and close the empathy gap. By the time a child reaches the age of 10 they may never be able to learn to fully connect, so this needs to happen young
  • A concrete place to start is the ‘How to recruit trustees for your charity’ report from CAF.

Lucy Caldicott, chief executive, UpRising

  • I’d like to build on some of things Tesse has been saying
  • For diversity we need to start to define terms; what is diversity? And it’s not just about gender, or ethnicity, we need to talk about everything: diversity of thought is essential and there is such a strong business case for this
  • For the voluntary sector, which is about making a difference to vulnerable people, there is also a very strong moral case. If talent is spread equally amongst humanity why are we not representing this? A failure in representative is a failure in doing good work for the issues we are meant to be supporting. Diversity should be front and centre of decision-making, not an advisory panel in the corner.
  • There is a woeful lack of responsibility of voluntary sector towards our staff, with countless stories of instances of racism, homophobia, bullying or misogyny in our sector. We need to remember when thinking about diversity and inclusion that we are not naturally the ‘good guys’
  • There are some practical steps: the 2018 Institute of Fundraising Change Collective is an example
  • A charity recently spoken to recently setting targets through open recruitment for BME diversity. Shortlisted six strong candidates and hoping to recruit 2-3 new recruits from there. This is not just about one ‘diverse’ person. Tokenism is not good enough
  • UpRising work on leadership programmes and employee development programmes and with young people who often have protected characteristics: teaching them that their place is everywhere: you can be leaders; you can be in all of these careers. Organisations like this are part of the solutions for all of our organisations.
  • We should be delivering workshops on power and privilege – we need to talk about these issues openly
  • I also advocate for mentoring and buddying, giving people progression routes and supporting them through these.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive, Inclusion London

  • Inclusion is very important to me, our organisation, and the 1.3 million disabled people in the UK
  • Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance
  • Leadership qualities are in many ways challenging and complex when it comes to achieving diversity, you need to create lots of opportunity, good luck and good will
  • Exceptions prove the rule with diversity in leadership, not the other way around
  • Not tapping into the talent available is a waste for our sector and a waste for our society more widely
  • There is also a huge number of powerful people who perhaps shouldn’t be in the positions they are in
  • Disabled people are at the sharp end of many of these challenges: we have some of the worst levels of representations in work and in leadership and board positions. These exclusions are complex
  • How do we tap into this pool of leadership potential? We need to get over our hope in the ‘superhero leader’ who can go into a mess and clear it up. What this idea has done is it has enabled a culture of outrageous pay for an elite under the guise of a meritocracy whilst at the same time a complete disregard for the team and the community. We really should start to develop the skills of our teams and communities rather than identifying and developing ‘super’ individuals and leaders
  • We must address poverty and inequality if we are genuinely going to address diversity and inclusion
  • It needs to be an explicit aim for organisations throughout and not just a part of a strategy
  • To achieve diversity, we must also really understand the value of lived experience
  • From the view of a DPO, we are frankly sick of disability organisations who are not run by disability organisations taking up our space. User-led organisations must claim their space, there is currently far too much paternalism. User-led organisations must be at the heart of our sector and most importantly, given the resources they need to support our sector
  • Transparency is also key – the gender pay gap is just the start of this. We need to start shaping what a good employer in the 21st century looks like: providing flexibility, support and transparency

Siobhan Corria, Head of Inclusion, Action for Children

  • My experience in the sector (and outside of it) has been varying; I worked in youth justice and social work, had a short career in politics as a councillor, I now work as head of inclusion at Action for Children, I also act as the only woman on an otherwise all-male board.
  • My main experience of the charity sector in terms of diversity and inclusion has depended on individuals and not on structures and systems, which is wrong and not sustainable
  • The role of leaders and trustees is to provide inspirational leadership and to actively initiate change for excluded people
  • Recruitment is important: leaders who can inspire and demonstrate leadership practice. We must consider who has the potential to do the job in the future, not always just someone who has done the job in the past. To think about what’s needed now rather than what has been done in the past
  • We must also understand the impact of diversity in leadership in practice: if we are delivering a service and the team is diverse (this doesn’t just mean protected characteristics but much more widely) then our services are more likely to be excellent and productive and deliver high-quality experiences for service users. This is also so important in terms of retention of those staff.

So my top tips for improving diversity:

  • Firstly, just to say, Action for Children definitely hasn’t mastered it yet
  • It’s a journey: understanding where your gaps are, not getting massively tied up in data but having a broad understanding of where you are and where you should be
  • Consider diversity in leadership at every single level: accept and understand that there is a gap that needs to change and having uncomfortable conversations about this
  • It’s about commitment and activity: make your sure diversity inclusion work is alive and working
  • Role model inclusive practice: look at your processes and show that you have been inclusive and transparent.


Lord Hodgson: How do we deal with the fact that national charities are often based in London? 

Tesse AkpekiI started my working like at NCVO as an equal opportunities officer in governance, the first role of that kind. I went everywhere to talk to people. They say ‘if you built it, they will come’ but that isn’t true: you must go out to people and build connection and engagement. If you want to improve diversity you can’t just sit and wait.

Lucy Caldicott: We should be really worried about this. We regularly expect people to come to us but don’t consider that is travel costs and time they could be working, which is even more important in this context. We should go to people or give them money for both their travel and their time.

Using our networks better is also important to achieve diversity across the country. The FSI is a really good example of an organisation we can all work with and through to reach smaller organisations across the country.

Tracey Lazard: Inclusion London is based in London but linked to a wider network of DPOs. As a sector, we need to start asserting ourselves a bit more whilst we’re being savagely cut. Not just do that outreach work but enable those communities themselves to work together. We need to be clearer and more assertive about what we need and the resources we must have to actively be inclusive. Engaging many groups of disabled people does cost more money, and we need to start asking for that money.

Siobhan Corria: I’m based in Wales. When we advertise for leadership positions at Action for Children we say you can be based anywhere in the UK and you can bet we get far more applications than we would if we insisted people were based in one place. If you think more creatively about what you want to achieve rather than where you want someone based, you’ll get many better applications and better retention rates.

Susan Elan Jones MP: What do we do about unrepresentative representative on boards? You have to get someone from a certain group, but you ask them because you know them and expect them to represent a whole group? How do we get a wider range of people being trustees when the majority of people in the country don’t know what a trustee is?

Baroness Barker: Two years ago I did a strategic review for a small professional charity as it has recently had real problems with its governance. Therefore the recruitment of trustees is now something that it takes really seriously. They want to reflect their users in their board. They really struggled with this idea that the board is put together through the skills of individuals and started by asking the question: how do we find someone who is representative and also has those skills?

Tracey Lazard:There are no short term fixes and it’s about not being tokenistic and building long term relationships with the people you are working with, and then co-producing the solutions with those communities. There is a real issue with the skills and the concept of being a trustee. We are not utilising the skills and expertise of lived experience: we talk about it, but then when it comes down it we are asking about HR skills or accountancy skills. It can be a disempowering experience being on a board if you don’t have those experiences. We need to use lived experiences to plan and shape our services and our organisations

Tesse Akpeki: It takes time. NCVO used to have women on boards programmes, ethnic minorities on boards programmes, these were meant to be pilots. It was about demonstrating to people from all walks of life what leadership is about. 3 weeks ago I went to an event and someone came up to me and said I attended one of those courses back in the day. That obviously opened these opportunities up to her. It’s about using what people are comfortable with and making leadership more accessible.

Lucy Caldicott: I’ve been on boards where there is one person as the representative of a group and had experience of the cause the charity is working towards. They barely contributed and the whole thing was a deeply damaging experience. You can’t just have one and you need to support that person. Councillor in Stockwell – I have to go and speak to people with difference experiences and backgrounds so I can effectively represent them.

Siobhan Corria: Tokenism. We’ve had young people on nation committees. It’s not about the young person fitting in, it’s about the chair changing the way they chair to suit that young person. You exclude people if you don’t fit into the time you have for meetings, too. If you’re meant to finish at 8.30, finish then. It feeds into the culture of a board about how they can actually support people from diverse backgrounds to be themselves.

Lord Hodgson: Is there work that needs to be done about new trustees understanding they are part of a team?

Siobhan Corria: The chair should be managing everyone’s backgrounds and what everyone can bring to the table. You have to be much more flexible if you want a diverse range of voices around the table.

Tracey Lazard: There is a danger that a new person on a board can already go into a room feeling disempowered and unable to speak out.

Pauline Broomhead, FSI: We are a huge network of organisations and small charities across the UK. There are a high number of charities who want to ensure their organisations and leadership is diverse and inclusive. In day to day activities they need some practical things to do. A consensus of opinion on what diversity and inclusion means would be a starting point for small organisations and their trustees, we also need a section of outcomes and measures for accountability. Also reflecting on the Charity Commission ‘essential trustees’ – should there be a 7th to look at diversity? Also, where do I go to direct my members to information on diversity and inclusion?

Tesse Akpeki: I’m currently working on top tips on diversity that will be published soon. Google search will throw up lots of things, particularly lots of stories of what’s working and what is failing.

Lucy Caldicott:The toolkit ‘getting on board’ is brilliant.

Janet from Reach Volunteering: We are looking into why board don’t recruit openly and then planning on drawing from on getting on board to turn it into a digital toolkit. The plan is then to shine a light on charities who do it really well and sharing best practice. Many of these will be finalists of charity governance awards diversity and inclusion category.

Q: Has it ever been considered to use services users as part of your board? I joined my old school governors so I could feel into where the service fell short

Tracey Lazard: For user-led organisations this is normal practice. DDPOs are set up locally by disabled people to have a voice and challenge discrimination but it doesn’t always happen. Often people come in for advice, become a volunteer and end up on the board. The wider charity sector is growing but user led organisations are being shrunk and closed. We are not being recognised by the wider sector and showing what we can teach the wider sector.

Q: How do we expose young people to wider roles in leadership and governance?

Lucy Caldicott:That is exactly what UpRising does. There are lots of examples of organisations that do this. We teach young people about knowledge, skills and campaigning so they can shout about the things they care about. 4/11 of our trustee boards and alumni from our programme. Giving young people the tools and taking them into the right roles is so important.

Tesse Akpeki:There is an organisation called St Martins housing in London. They focus on user journey and person-centred journeys. The pick people who are at the low end of confidence and support them. At the last meeting there I went to they had one of their users on their board. This is so important. We must remember everyone has something to bring.

Siobhan Corria: If you have young people participation embedded in your systems and processes they will naturally get experience in leadership. We often have young people interviewing trustees and senior managers.

Baroness Barker: Following on from that, I know there are lots of resources. What there isn’t is a standard path. Could there be a trustee apprenticeship? Surely there could be some kind of accredited training in governance? Why do you go and sit on a board? You need to get something out of it? Especially for young people themselves. We have loads of good stuff, but we don’t have a way of pulling this together. If anyone has any ideas on what could work for a training process then please do share.

Tesse Akpeki: There is an initiative called the diversity forum. Lots of work on social enterprises. It has a lot of stuff for young people including apprentices, for young people for roles and volunteer roles, so there’s something there that’s useful. CAF produced a handbook for young trustees.

Lucy Caldicott: I’m just going to lob in the suggestion of paying trustees in the last minute of this discussion.

Tracey Lazard:There is lots of good work and resources we must collate. And my final word, our sector must pay attention to user-led organisations.

Siobhan Corria: Organisations need to think about how they are appealing to people and how they are talking to the outside world. Language and images are everything.

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