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  4. Finding, recruiting and retiring board members to meet the organisation’s changing needs in line with the governing document, taking into account skills, experience and diversity

Principle 2

Finding, recruiting and retiring board members to meet the organisation’s changing needs in line with the governing document, taking into account skills, experience and diversity

Recruiting new board members

Finding and recruiting new board members to meet the organisation’s changing needs in relation to skills, experience and diversity is an important role played by existing board members.

Keeping a management committee fresh, focused and effective requires regular renewal of its membership.  This enables the committee to periodically review what skills or attributes the committee requires to meet the changing governance challenges and demands of the organisation (skills audit) and try to ensure that the balance on the committee reflect that of society.  This may require increasing the diversity of board members.  It can also help to strengthen the commitment and enthusiasm of individual committee members, by both introducing new energy and ideas and introducing mechanisms for limiting their term of office so board members know they have a specific period of time to make a contribution to the development of the organisation.

Recruiting new members onto a Management Committee can be challenging for various reasons:

  • Special guidelines and procedures need to be followed to ensure Committee Members are legally appointed in line with the organisation’s governing document
  • The traditional way of recruiting committee members by approaching people already known to existing committee members tends to simply replicate the current skills, experience and backgrounds and not bring in new ones
  • It can be challenging to attract people with the appropriate governance skills
  • People with an interest in your organisation, or area of work, and have the right skills, may not know you are looking for committee members, or are unwilling to put themselves forward without being approached
  • Some potential volunteers may be reluctant to take on the increasingly onerous responsibilities
  • Some of the people with an interest in your area of work who have the right skills may have significant conflicts of interest

However, at the same time, recruiting new members provides a great opportunity to strengthen and diversify your Management Committee, increasing its overall effectiveness and ability to govern effectively and achieve its goals.

Given the key role that the Management Committee plays in the success of the organisation, it is worth spending a little time planning your recruitment and reviewing how you attract, select, induct and involve new members.

Healthy turnover of members

It is challenging for management committees to maintain a balance between ensuring continuity and being a ‘closed shop’.  However, succession planning enables committees to anticipate and manage turnover when members resign or reach the end of their term of office (which may be laid down in your governing document, or agreed informally).  Such healthy turnover helps to ensure openness and accountability but is underpinned by effective planning to secure sufficient continuity.

There is a wide variation in the size of management committees and in the election/co-option processes used.  Some organisations only have four or five committee members, others have as many as twenty.  The average is probably around ten.  Similarly, some organisations think they have to re-elect the entire committee each year (although this election process may be entirely tokenistic, as each year someone proposes the election of the same people), while others have no time limits and the same people stay on the Management Committee for many years with little opportunity for others to get elected.

In order to ensure fair and consistent practice that is in line with your governing document, it is important to consider what procedures you will use in recruitment and selection for Management Committee membership.

Some of the questions that the committee will need to address include:

  • What are our formal procedures for election to the Management Committee?
  • What are the rules in the constitution regarding co-options?
  • Have we made clear what the role is?
  • What do we require of all committee members?
  • What specific governance skills are we missing or need to be strengthened (skills audit)?
  • In what ways do we need to improve the diversity of the committee?
  • How many vacancies are we hoping to fill?
  • How will we let people know that we are looking for new board members?
  • What criteria will they use to determine who is eligible and what the priorities are?
  • Who will assess whether someone should be invited to join the management committee?
  • How will individuals apply for Committee membership?

Your answers to all of these questions should be based on:

  1. Requirements outlined in your governing document
  2. Procedures or criteria agreed by your Management Committee

How will individuals apply for Committee membership?

Your application process will be influenced by the size of your organisation, its geographical spread, your recruitment methods, and who you need on your committee to fill skill gaps.

Options frequently used include:

Who will determine who is eligible to be put forward for committee membership?

It is advisable, where possible, to involve more than one person in determining eligibility. Depending on your organisation, this may be carried out by:

  • Office-bearers
  • Delegated committee members
  • In larger organisations, the most senior staff member alongside committee members

As with any other recruitment situations, applications should be treated confidentially.

What criteria will they use to determine who is eligible?

Each organisation needs to be clear who is and is not eligible to be considered for Management Committee membership (e.g. your governing document may specify that previous committee members cannot be reappointed within 1 or years of having served before,  or there may be age restrictions).

Your criteria should be based on any requirements and then any additional requirements set down by the Management Committee.

Consider the following points:

Legal and restrictions in the governing document

  • Does your governing document require Management Committee members to be members of the organisation?
  • UNDER 18 – Individuals under the age of 18 cannot usually be on the Management Committee of a Charity which is an unincorporated association.  However, over 16s may be permitted to be on the Management Committee of a limited company which is a charity.  The test is whether the individual understands their duties and responsibilities and there are caveats around insurance and parental permission regarding liability.  Groups are advised to take specific advice on this matter.  For further details see the Charity Commission for NI
  • Does your governing document specify any organisations or constituencies that must be represented?
  • Is there a geographical restriction for membership of the committee?
  • Does your governing document specify any restrictions relating to applications by current or past Committee members?
  • What categories of people are legally disqualified from becoming a trustee?
  • Is the committee clear what would constitute a conflict of interest?

Other selection criteria to become a committee member

  • Do you require any specific expertise, personal qualities or experience to be a committee member?
  • Do you have to sign up to the organisation’s values statement, conflicts of interest declarations and code of conduct?
  • Do you require committee members to be available at certain days and times for regular committee members?

Desired skills, experience, backgrounds

  • Does the committee need to fill specific skill gaps e.g. finance, health & safety, safeguarding, human resources, legal, etc.?
  • How diverse is your committee, does it represent the community it serves? What backgrounds would you specifically welcome interest from?

What are your formal procedures for appointment to the Management Committee?

Most Management Committee members become involved in a group/organisation through an election process, usually at the Annual General Meeting (AGM).  But there are other ways that individuals may join. If you are unsure check your governing document for the rules for how new members join.

The following table outlines various ways individuals may become involved on a Management Committee.

Method: Description:
Election Individuals are proposed and are then elected on to the Management Committee, often by the organisation’s members at an Annual General Meeting (AGM) and/or by postal ballot.
Co-option Individuals are appointed onto the Management Committee, by the Management Committee, usually until the next AGM when they can be elected.  Download:  Example Co-Option Application Form
Appointed from outside Individuals are appointed by a funder or other external organisation, e.g. a local authority.  Please see Charity Commission NI guidance for Councillors who are Trustees.
Ex-Officio Individuals are appointed by virtue of the office they hold, e.g. a mayor, minister or priest.


For more details on planning and recruiting new board members click here.

Help and support

For a list of organisations who can provide help and support regarding recruitment of management committee members, please go to CommunityNI.