I became a Trustee in my mid-twenties – I was really surprised but very pleased to be asked. I thought Trusteeship was only for people who were a lot more experienced than me. When I attended a national conference for Trustees- my first real opportunity to meet other people in my position- I realised how few young people were on Boards. After investigating the issue further and discovering it was a real problem, I set up my organisation Young Charity Trustees. Our biggest community (of current young Trustees, potential young trustees and everyone who wants to encourage Board Diversity) can be found here.
So, why does it matter that we encourage more young people to join Boards?
I’d give three major reasons:
To widen the pool of talent
It makes sense that if you cut out a major part of the population, you don’t get the very best people that you can. Charities need the best people if they are going to make the greatest difference to the causes that they care about.
The idea that all the skills that charities need are to be found only in old white men is a preposterous one.
One argument that people give against young people becoming Trustees is their lack of experience. Personally, I would rather have someone who was passionate than someone who was experienced, all other things being equal. In any case, many young people do have relevant experience- now there is a whole cohort of people who have served on Student Union boards that have experience that would be useful to charities.
To show people that diversity matters to us
I’m sure that you value diversity. Apart from the importance of diversity at the top in a fair and equal society, diversity means that it is less likely that there will be ‘groupthink’ and that better decisions will be taken at Board level.
It means that funders will see that you don’t just pay lip service to caring about different groups of people. For example, if you are a youth charity that is interested in listening to the views of young people, what better way can you show that interest (to funders, let alone to the young people themselves) than by having young people on your Board?
To get us to look critically at our current Board practices
One of the most important concepts I talk about when encouraging charities to think about their current Board practices and what might help young people to want to be involved is, ‘What is good for the goose is good for the gander’. That is to say that when they ask me what potential young trustees might want and I say things like:
- Trustee meetings at times that work for them
- Fixed terms of office
- Training to be a Trustee
- Training on areas (such as finance) over the course of their time as a Trustee
- A buddy system where they are matched with an existing Trustee on the Board so that they can get some support if required
I tell them that actually these sorts of things should be offered to all Trustees, not just young ones! All Trustees deserve those things. So, in thinking about what would be good for a young person, charities can start looking carefully at the issues that will hopefully help them to have a generally more productive, happier Board.
I am sure that you can think of many more reasons why it is important to involve young people on Boards. This isn’t an issue that will be solved overnight, but with enough momentum it can be. Lots of charities are already making great strides and lots of young people currently on Boards are showing the difference that young trustees can make.
Author: Alex Swallow
Alex Swallow is The Influence Expert, you can learn about his work at www.theinfluenceexpert.com . He is a digital nomad, currently based in Prague and previously in Lisbon, Berlin and Las Palmas. He was the Chief Executive of a small national charity based in London and also worked as an intern for two MPs.