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Deep dive with the Model Boardroom Series

Megan Raybould

29 March 2024

Explore a real-life boardroom scenario alongside young trustees.

Model Boardroom Series is an interactive and accessible way to learn about trusteeship and develop governance skills. No previous experience required. Read this blog to find why the series exists and to learn more out more about the Young Trustees featured in the series.

We have created 3 different ways that you can engage with the Model Boardroom Series.

  1. Podcast
  2. This blog (which summarises the podcast)
  3. A digital hub course. Which combines different learning styles and delves into the mock boardroom scenario in more detail.

By reading this blog or listening to the podcast, and by joining in with the series over on the Digital Hub, you can practise: thinking like a trustee, gain governance skills and feel confident when you next join a board meeting.

In the Model Boardroom Series podcast - we presented a real life boardroom scenario. We were joined by 4 young trustees on the podcast: Mary, Leonora, Ben and Pelumi, who explored the scenario and how they’d approach it. Members of the Movement have also been sharing the question they’d ask to help them make a decision. There’s no such thing as a silly question!

Here’s a recap of our boardroom scenario:

A proposal is brought to your trustee board with a recommendation to increase all staff wages by 5% due to the cost of living crisis. You are asked to review and vote on the proposal.

In this blog, we share the discussion from our panel of young trustees and explore the questions suggested by members of this Movement about this scenario.

Financial Information

You want to know if the charity can afford a pay increase for staff. What information would you like the Financial Director to provide to gain this clarity?

In order to know if a pay increase is affordable, you’ll want to find out where the money for this will come from. You would want to look at the funding the charity receives and what of that income is restricted and unrestricted. You could also look at the reserves the charity has.

You might also interrogate the rationale for 5% - UK inflation has been higher so I’d question where has this figure come from? You may want to also do Benchmarking against other charity salaries to be able to compare.

Think about the longevity of the situation - is this something that's agreed year on year? What is the long term financial modelling for this? What processes do we need to embed to manage situations like this in future?

I’d ask questions to understand where this request has come from and why we have defaulted to offering a pay increase. If you cannot afford the pay rise, you could question what other incentives you could offer - such as holidays, working from home, training, reduced hours. Ask the question - what else can we do to manage the situation?

Why are questions about financial viability important?

“Ultimately as a trustee you are a steward of the resources that the charity has, so you can’t just make a decision based on gut instinct. You have to look at the numbers and make a decision for the charity. Even though emotively, I might want to say yes - what are the implications of me doing that and the ramification for the charity” - Mary Agbesanwa

Historical Information

As a new trustee, you want to know what the charity has done about inflation previously. How would you approach gathering this historical information?

This question, again, is about understanding the full context before you make a decision. So, you need to get a sense of if similar decisions have been made in the past. You need to be aware of things that might have happened before you were a trustee.

Speak to other trustee members to ask about the wider context and what has been done previously such as prior salary adjustments and how decisions around it have been made before.

As a trustee you should have access to past meeting minutes, so you could go back and read about how decisions were made and what points were brought up in the past.

As well as understanding previous decisions that have been made by the charity, you need to look at the impact they had and the response to those decisions. For example, if a previous pay rise was made, did it impact staff retention? You could get current insights by asking to look at employee engagement surveys and access previous insights if available.

Finally, research online on how other charities have dealt with this decision as it’s a topical issue others will be dealing with.

Contextualising within the wider world

You read an article on how the UK’s poorest have been impacted the most by the cost of living crisis. How does this impact your thinking towards the scenario?

This question is about contextualising your response to the wider world. This allows you to look at the real-life impact of your decision on the workers within the charity.

A next step could be to look at the salaries people are currently on, what are the averages for the organisation, how many people are on the lower end of the salary scale and what is that?

Another option your trustee board could explore is if one off payments might help in the current context and if that is sustainable for the organisation.

Reading selective news sources as a trustee to help you contextualise the issue at hand and the experiences both of the staff body and those the charity aims to support.

The question is important as, when you are grappling with big topics such as these, it’s useful to have insight from the wider world and look at the macro socio, political and economic context.

Considering other charities approaches

Other charities have increased staff wages due to the cost of living crisis. Considering this, what information could be gathered to help you make a more informed decision about the proposal?

In this situation if other similar charities had been increasing their staff wages, it’s useful to understand by how much, how did they come to that decision and what were the impacts.

You could find the information out by speaking to staff and trustees at other charities if that’s available to you. You can also look at other organisations annual reports that are published online to get a sense of the impact of the decision.

Any insights you get, you’ll need to contextualise as different charities have different ways of getting funding and giving this pay rise will have different implications.

“There is only so much of this you’ll want to do as a charity. Ultimately, you’re never going to be in that other charity's boardroom. Definitely the context is useful, but ultimately a well diversified board should have all the answers and the capability to make the decision for themselves as well”. - Mary Agbesanwa

This question allows us to be better informed in order to make the best decision in our context. In this scenario, where staff retention is an issue, it's particularly important to look at what other charities are doing as that may impact your charities staff retention. However, while benchmarking and comparisons are important, each charity is unique and has its own specific circumstances to navigate.

Long term affordability

You are confident the charity can afford this proposed pay increase for the next year. You want to know what the long term affordability of this would be. What questions could you ask to understand this better?

To address this question, you could look at the reserves and the restricted and unrestricted funds that are available as it will have an impact on those. You may also want to consider when the organisation will receive more funding and if the financial year impacts on the budget - this may inform the question around when you plan to implement the pay increase.

When considering this pay proposal you need to consider the long term plan - it may be assumed that if you agree to 5% this year you may set a precedent and the assumption that you’ll continue that year on year or that inflation may mean a higher rate in the future. Having an idea of the long term affordability is important to feed into decision making and communicating the decision.

Wrap up

There’s no such thing as a silly question! All of the questions that have been asked about this scenario have been useful and are what any good trustee would ask!

Asking questions is fundamental to good governance. It’s not about knowing all the answers, but about finding the information. If you can do that then that can and will make you a great trustee.

Is there anything you’d add? Do you agree with everything that was shared in this blog? If you haven’t already, go into the digital hub where you can deep dive into this course in your own time and start thinking like a trustee. You can also look at what this situation would look like in an example board paper.

Thank you to Movements For Good for sponsoring this series. If you would like to sponsor season 2, please get in touch:


There were some key terms mentioned in these podcast episodes that you hear a lot in the boardroom. Those are:

Restricted and unrestricted funds - Restricted funds are money the charity is given that is ring fenced for a specific project, for example staff time on a certain initiative might be covered. Unrestricted funds are not linked to a specific project and can be spent however the charity needs, for example on overheads.

Reserves - Money the charity has set aside in order to manage emergencies such as closures. Often a reserves policy involves having enough money to cover the costs of the organisation for 3 - 6 months and/or enough to close down the charity if that needed to happen.

Benchmarking salaries
-  A process that looks at the salaries of employees in different organisations performing similar roles to compare to the salaries they provide and ensure they are competitive and fair.

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