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Evaluating Smallwood’s Board shadowing programme

The Smallwood Trust is always looking to increase diversity in our governance by hearing the widest range of voices around the Board table. We wanted to do something practical to demonstrate how lived experience is of equal par to professional skills, and is something that can be recruited for, in addition to other skills.

Smallwood is committed to grounding this learning and improvement into our own practices and sees the Board Shadowing Programme as a way of embedding Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in grantmaking at a strategic level.


For Shadowees:

  • Experience of a Board operating at national level
  • Insights into funding and grantmaking through experience of the decision-making process and robust processes for allocating funding
  • New networks
  • Broader personal development
  • Sense of purpose/positive focus
  • Understanding of how an ethical organisation works, and broader charitable sector
  • Appreciation of the importance of having a variety of skills on a Board, and diversity in its broadest sense

For Smallwood Trust:

  • Goes to the core of Smallwood Trust’s mission
  • Gives beneficiaries a voice empowers and brings diversity of viewpoints
  • Provides access to different networks and opportunities, which are components to support individuals’ financial resilience
  • External recognition of the Shadowees Programme – trust and relationships developed


There is much talk within the sector about wanting to include people with lived experiences in the decision-making process. Running such an initiative is not resource-intensive since there is a distinction between Board member shadowing (which runs for a defined period of time and with clear contact points), mentoring (which tend to be for 12 months+, involve a deeper relationship), and assigning goals.

However, it does require commitment at both Board and Senior Leadership level and should be central to your mission. The Board Shadowing Programme is not a blueprint, simply good practice. It is a flexible model which should be informed by individuals’ needs, the culture of your organisation and your Board.

Core ingredients for a successful Board Shadowing Programme are: Relational + Role model + Representation

  • Relational: Building a trusted relationship and keeping communication channels open, particularly before and after Board meetings is key.
  • Role model: Do you have a role model within or linked to your Board that Shadowees could learn from by example? Representation: Do you have somebody on your existing Board of Trustees that Shadowees will identify with?

If you just want to get started, Dr. Ambreen Shah has helpfully produced this Ten Top Tips guide for those organisations interested in developing their own Board Shadowing Programme.

In our Board Shadowing Programme Evaluation paper, we explore the learning, insights, new perspectives, and access to different networks for the Smallwood Trust Board and Shadowees alike.

You can read our Board Shadowing Programme Evaluation paper here.

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