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Elected to Recruited: The journey from being an elected Students’ Union trustee to being recruited at another.

Megan Raybould

11 July 2020

Previously President and Chair of the Board of Trustees at Kent Union, Aaron has recently been appointed into his second trustee role. We asked Aaron to share his experience of being a trustee at an students union and why he chose to take on a new trustee role after graduating.

If you were to tell the shy, 18-year-old, fresher version of myself that I would one day be the voice of 20,000 students at my university, I think he would tell you that you must be talking to the wrong person. I was watching TV recently, and someone said “the fact that you don’t want to be the leader, makes you the perfect person for the job” – and that kind of rings true to me.

My name is Aaron Thompson. I was the President and Chair of the Board of Trustees 18/19 at Kent Union and have recently been appointed as a Lay Trustee on the Board of Birkbeck Students’ Union.

Throughout my 4 years at university, not once did it cross my mind to get involved with the Students’ Union. I just wanted to study, get my degree and dance (that was my thing). In my final year I was the President of the Kent Dance Society and because of the great support of my committee and my friends, I ran to be the VP (Activities) at our SU. A job I thought just meant supporting the growth of societies and being their champion – little did I know it also meant being a trustee of a £12m organisation, ensuring its financial sustainability, its compliance with laws and regulations and dealing with legal issues as they came up. Fun.

Being a trustee was certainly difficult at times, but when you recognise how uncommon it is for someone of your age to be in a position like that and have that amount of influence, you don’t take it for granted. Less than 3% of charity trustees are under 30. Over time I saw myself become more strategic, think of the bigger picture and think long term. Naturally with this in mind and a newfound desire to represent students on wider issues, I became the President and Chair of the Board.

Over the 2 years I gained so much experience and developed many skills - which a lot of you reading this may be able to recognise in yourselves. I developed: diplomacy, inclusivity, decisiveness, time management, financial literacy, accountability and scepticism, and crisis management to name a few.

Transitioning out of a role that gave you influence, importance and impact can be challenging. So that begs the question – what do I do with all these skills I’ve gained and my hunger to make an impact? Do I just let it die? HECK NO!

If the student movement taught me 1 thing, it’s DO NOT BE SILENT when you know something is wrong. So even in my corporate day job, I’m still making an impact and influencing culture. But that still wasn’t enough for me. Being a trustee allows you to make a long-lasting impact for a cause that matters to you whilst keeping you engaged. So, I decided to keep an eye out for trustee roles.

If your boards were anything like mine, the external trustees you get on these boards are leaders in their field, having a huge amount of expertise and contacts – so who I am to think I could be one? What do I offer? How could I possibly compete? Those were the thoughts clouding my brain. But the sooner you brush those clouds to the side, the sooner your light will shine through.

So, I pulled up my socks and got to work. I updated my CV and made sure my cover letter met the requirements of the role specification. During the interview, I didn’t focus on what I didn’t have, but what I did have, what value I could bring and who I am. And here I am, having been successful in the interview and appointed.

Research shows that our generation is more ethical and more likely to give of our time to help a cause we care about. Charities are sometimes the most underfunded organisations but the ones making the most impact on our world. We all want to see a brighter future and it’s important that charities continue to move in the right direction. It should therefore be a necessity for charity boards to have young trustees – we will think differently, communicate differently, and want different things and for any charity to have longevity it needs to harness the diversity of the population in all of its intersections.

I support the Young Trustees Movement and want to see Charity Chairs and CEOs recognise the importance of having diverse boards for the benefit of all in society.

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