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blog • Resource

Getting your board on board

Megan Raybould

04 August 2020

This week we’ve been researching how to get your board on board with the idea of young trustees.

What could I say about the benefits of young trustees to persuade my board?

While it’s been 5 years since it was published, the research and suggestions listed in ‘Young Trustees Guide’,  written by Leon Ward in collaboration with Charities Aid Foundation, is still really relevant. Read the full guide here.

Leon explains that the Young Trustees Survey was created to find out the benefit and impact young trustees can have. Here is a list of the research as it’s summerised in the guide:

For charities Evidence provided by a range of organisations highlighted the following benefits:

  • Challenging a disconnect that can exist between board members and beneficiaries, as a diverse range of trustees can help ensure that a charity is fair and transparent in their operations and is providing appropriate services, communications and staff support
  • Increasing public confidence in an organisation by having a range of people represented on their board(s), which can encourage greater support from the public
  • Diverse boards benefit from a greater range of skills and viewpoints which can result in increased flexibility, greater scrutiny and better informed decision making – a diverse board leads to more robust decision making
  • Young trustees are often hungry to learn and make a difference – when given confidence, they may also ask the question others won’t
  • Engaging young people as trustees means charities are making friends for life and will build a constituency of both future and loyal donors and a network of advocates
  • It is a chance to be equitable and to support a section of society in a way most charities have not thought about
  • Charities often make the case for a more inclusive society which values people and reflecting this at the highest decision making level in a charity is a really positive way of demonstrating and living this value
  • Strategically, having a more diverse trustee board that has young trustees helps with succession planning, both within the executive and on boards n Charities can benefit from the expertise and guidance of young volunteer trustees in ways that they otherwise would have to pay for
  • Young people represent a significant proportion of the population, and a diverse board that utilises the talents and skills from a range of people with different experiences is more likely to be well equipped to spot potential challenges and plan positively to engage a wider audience

Comments from charity trustee board chairs who responded to our Young Trustees Survey about the benefits of having young trustees include:

  • (They provide) “insight into the experiences of young people in the UK”
  • (They ask) “very obvious and insightful questions that can change the course of discussion”
  • “making papers more accessible, which is of benefit to everyone”
  • “new fresh ideas challenging long standing beliefs and systems” “energises the committee to think differently”

What’s the misconception about young trustees I might have to tackle?

There are several! But the one I want to highlight here is the idea that young people won’t make as good trustees as they don’t have the networks or financial resources to help open doors for the charity.

In this instance, it’s worth remembering what the role of a trustee is.

The trustees board holds overall legal responsibility for the charity. They are there to make sure that the charity is acting in the interests of the public and inline with its own aims.Trustees must act collectively to govern the charity and take decisions.

They are not there to create connections or make financial donations to the charity.

Are there already organisations including young trustees on their board? What other organisations can I give as an example?

Lots of amazing organisations are already working with young trustees.

The Blagrave Trust is one organisation thriving with the help of young trustees. The Social Change Agency created this Podcast with Jo Wells, Director of the Blagrave Trust. In it Jo explains the necessity of including diverse voices and the benefit of young people taking on trustee roles.

In the podcast Jo explains that the young trustees on the Board at the Blagrave Trust are highly competent and financially literate. Often, the assumption is that young people won’t be skilled in certain things - but that assumption isn’t right. No matter what you’re looking for there is almost certainly a young person skilled in it!

Jo’s advice to boards thinking about appointing young trustees, but with concerns is that:  “fear of tokenism, fear of getting things wrong, tying ourselves in knots over the idea of representation, generally creates inaction. My experience in Belgrave is that you won’t get everything right for sure, but actually you just need to take a step forward’”... from taking those first steps… “you realise it’s not as complicated as it seems”.  Listen in full episode here. 

If you’re looking for help to take the first steps - you can download a full checklist we’ve created along with #Iwill here.

Other organisations that have young trustees include Girlguiding and Roundhouse.

Girlguidng have written this statement about why, and how, they work to ensure their board of trustees is diverse and inclusive.

Roundhouse have had young trustees on their board since 2005 and have written their reflections and advice about it in this guide. The guide includes tips on how to persuade your board that diversity is crucial and young people should be represented. They suggest that you can argue for young people to be included based on representation and resilience. Find out more details here.

NSPCC are in the process of recruiting, you can hear from Allison Howe in this week’s Q&A as she explains how the team at NSPCC came to the decisions that they should have young trustees and started that process. You can watch a recording here.

What’s the first step to propose to my board?

In the coming weeks we’ll be looking at job adverts, interview processes and induction processes. Register here to come along to our live Q&As and check back here for resources on each of these topics.

What do I need to consider before we can start to appoint young trustees?

There are some changes you’ll need to make to ensure that the experience is meaningful and accessible. It’s not enough to simply appoint a young person - you’ll need to reflect on your board practices. This may take some time and energy - but the pay off can be huge and benefit everyone on the board. Things to consider might include:

  • Accessibility of language: We know that board papers can be difficult to understand - consider language used in them and if it can be made more accessible without detracting from the meaning.

  • Culture of asking questions: Is there a culture in which it’s ok to ask a question if you don’t understand? This won’t just benefit the young person - but any trustee on the board who might not have wanted to ask a question before in case they seemed silly. Could you lead by example as a Chair or Trustee already on the board and start asking when you don’t understand something.

  • Board paper format: How are board papers shared? Do they need to be printed or are they readable on a laptop or phone? Many young people don’t have printers at home. There may be other access needs people have that the board should check e.g. large printing, coloured paper.

  • Mentors: Last week we focused on the benefits of mentorship and again, this is useful to everyone on the board. Young people should not be singled out and given a mentor because they are young. Instead, a mentorship scheme for all new trustees could be helpful. You can read our recommendations here, or watch this recording of the live Q&A.

  • Expenses: the costs of board meetings (travel, accommodation) can stop young people, and people from other backgrounds, being able to attend. You will need an expense process in place that all trustees are encouraged, or required, to claim.

  • Time of meeting: Does the time of the meeting work for young members of the board who may be balancing other commitments? If you're not sure, why not do a consultation to find out when works for everyone?

  • Being the only one: Walking into a room and not seeing anyone else that looks like you can be intimidating. It might work better to have more than one young person (or person from any minority background) on the board.

  • Seating arrangements: Jo from the Belgrave Trust mentions that their young trustees sit next to the Chair - so they are central to the conversation and never overlooked.

    You can also watch this video of Ceylon from Step Up To Serve about her role and how young people are integrated onto the board she’s part of. They start each meeting with a reflection from the young board members. You can watch it here.

    As Jo mentioned in the podcast, you don’t need to do it perfectly straight away. The above list shouldn’t scare you off - but rather give you practical steps to take to move forward.

Become an ambassador

Young people are at the heart of our movement. Ambassadors act as spokes people for the movement, they take a leading role in creating the strategy and help to facilitate other young people to be involved.

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