The curious relationship between the number of staff and number of trustees in foundations

UK charities, including foundations, are unusual organisations in that it is pretty common to have more trustees than staff. The trustees are non-executive directors, they are almost invariably unpaid, and collectively comprise the board. It is rare in businesses and the public sector for organisations to have more non-executive directors than staff.

Giving Evidence examined 100 UK charitable grant-making foundations. Among other things, we looked each foundation’s number of staff and its number of trustees. Amongst the 100 foundations we assessed, having more non-executives than executives is nearly twice as common as the converse:

  • 61 foundations have more trustees than staff
  • 33 foundations have more staff than trustees
  • 4 foundations have as many staff as trustees

As the graphs below show, the variation in the ratio is huge: from having ten trustees and just one staff member, to having nearly 200 staff per trustee. That latter is Wellcome, which is an outlier, but even the second highest ratio has nearly 60 staff per trustee.


We gathered these data for the purposes of the Foundation Practice Rating: that is outlined below, though these particular data and analyses do not relate to the FPR’s core purpose. However, there is no existing data-set on the number of staff and trustees per foundation: to get that, you have to gather the data yourself by reading annual reports etc. That is laborious. We did it for FPR, because we needed the data for scoring foundations. So, having an unusual data-set, we thought that we would analyse it a bit and publish it.

We hope this is a useful contribution to the field 🙂

The Foundation Practice Rating is an independent assessment of UK grant-making charitable foundations. It assesses foundations’ practices on diversity, accountability and transparency, and does so using only their public materials. It is funded by 10 UK foundations, and is repeated annually. The sample of 100 foundations comprises: the 10 foundations who fund it, the UK’s five largest foundations, and the rest are selected randomly. Foundations have no choice of whether they are included. The criteria are based on precedent elsewhere, and a public consultation. They do not assess what a foundation funds, nor its effectiveness as such. Each foundation is rated A (top), B, C, or D on each of the three areas, and is also given an overall rating. 2022 was the rating’s first year: the results were released in March 2022. More information is at

These are the foundations with the conventional arrangement of more staff than non-executives:

and these are the foundations in our sample with more non-executives than staff. Notice how they are more in number than the set above.

[Note that four foundations are marked here as having just one trustee each. In those cases, ‘the trustee’ is an institution (and often the foundations are old, with links to the Corporation of London). For example, The Mercers’ Charitable Foundation’s one trustee is the Mercers’ Company (a City of London livery company). The Drapers’ Charitable Fund’s one trustee is The Drapers’ Company (another City of London livery company). The Resolution Trust’s one trustee is The Resolution Trust (Trustee) Limited, a company with four directors. An example from outside our sample is Bridge House Estates Trust, whose one trustee is ‘the Major and Commonalty and Citizens of the City of London’.]

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