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Why we need young trustees

Age diversity is an area that most charity boards ignore. Yet charities have so much to gain by drawing on young people’s energy, commitment and fresh perspectives. Naomi Lea, a trustee at Step up to Serve, the charity that runs the #iwill campaign, explains why young people need a voice on the board.

I’m 20 years old and I’m a charity trustee. That puts me in a tiny minority of young people. According to the Charities Aid Foundation, although 18-24-year-olds make up 12% of Britain’s population, we account for less than 0.5% of all charity trustees. The average age of charity trustees is 57.

So how did I beat the odds?

It helps that social action has always been part of my life. Aged 6, I started fundraising for my primary school’s PTA and have been involved in volunteering ever since in various different roles.

I’ve been on the Youth Advisory Board for the NSPCC and had a similar role at Young Minds, which gave me a good sense of a trustee’s role.

Seeing behind the scenes

The opportunity to join the Step up to Serve board came about because I’d been working as an ambassador for the #iwill campaign. #iwill Ambassadors are young people aged 10-20 who campaign, volunteer or fundraise to make a difference in their communities.

Although I’ve always loved frontline volunteering, particularly in the area of mental health, I’m also really interested in what goes on behind the scenes at charities.

So when some young trustees from Step up to Serve told me they were looking to recruit more young people to the board, it seemed like a natural next move.

Give us real responsibilities

It’s vital that boards don’t take on young trustees as a ‘tick box’ exercise or simply ask young people to ‘rubber stamp’ decisions that have already been made.

If charities want to make the most of what we have to offer, we need real responsibilities and real power.

At Step up to Serve, there are now four young trustees and we’re very much part of the board, involved in everything from finance and governance to strategic direction.

Help us build skills and experience

Being a young trustee has helped me develop so many valuable skills. Having to speak up and make my views heard has really helped my confidence and self-belief.

Reading board papers has also improved my ability to reflect on and analyse texts and given me a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes in a charity.

What’s in it for charities?

By getting young trustees onto their boards, charities are nurturing the next generation of charity leaders. But that’s not all they have to gain.

We bring a whole new perspective to decision-making. Too often, charities do what they’ve always done because that’s how they’ve always done it. A younger generation brings a fresh eye and different approaches.

Stereotypes and misconceptions

Charities can be sceptical about the need to have young people on their boards. But when I’ve challenged this belief, no one has ever come up with a good reason why not to include us.

A common misconception is that young people aren’t interested in governance or attending ‘boring meetings’. However, as a generation, we’re fired up to support causes we believe in, and many of us can’t wait to get inside charities and get involved.

A generation that wants to give back

According to the latest National Youth Social Action survey carried out by Step up to Serve:

  • 81% of 10-20-year-olds care about making the world a better place.
  • 6 out of 10 young people had taken part in activities to help others and/or the environment in the last 12 months.
  • 4 out of 10 had taken part in meaningful social action in the last year, such as volunteering, fundraising or campaigning.

Getting the message out there

Young people want to make a difference. But charities need to be creative in reaching out to let them know about trustee opportunities. They might need to change their recruitment processes, use social media and link up with other organisations.

For example, the Oxford Hub runs a Young Trustees Programme that matches young people with charity board opportunities and provides training.

Charities: over to you

Research carried out by the Social Change Agency, funded by the Blagrave Trust, points out that it’s up to charities to change attitudes and reframe perceptions.

“Good governance is exciting and dynamic for any person, regardless of age. The mindset and framing of trusteeship as boring or dull is owned by the trustee board themselves and it is within their power to change or reframe this to be exciting, challenging and engaging.”

How to get young people on board

If you don’t have any young trustees yet, here are some tips to get you started.

  • Challenge people’s assumptions about the difficulties of having young trustees. Ask: “Why not?”
  • Share stories internally of charities that are doing this well, such as the British Youth Council, Spirit of 2012 and the Co-op Foundation. The Young Trustees Guide by the Charities Aid Foundation has plenty of examples.
  • Decide how you might need to change your recruitment processes to reach young people.
  • Connect with others to promote trustee roles to young people.
  • Consider setting up a youth advisory board first, then progressing to introduce young people onto the board.
  • Don’t assume what kind of support young people need. Ask them. Step up to Serve has a bursary scheme so young trustees can claim expenses for lost wages.

Go for it!

I’d love to see the day when young people are clamouring to get onto boards and organisations are equally keen to involve them. In my experience, once charities take on younger trustees, they never go back. So my message to charities is: Give it a go. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain!

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

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