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Meet Jonathan Levy: Young Trustee at Dyspraxia Foundation

Megan Raybould

02 June 2020

Jonathan is a young trustee at Dyspraxia Foundation. Read his story about becoming a trustee and his tips for aspiring young trustees and boards.

Jonathan Levy

North West Ambassador

Young Trustees Movement Movement Speaker

Jonathan Levy, who lives in Warrington in Cheshire, first became a trustee at the age of 22, serving the Dyspraxia Foundation. As someone who has dyspraxia, Jonathan grasps every opportunity to raise awareness of the condition and is an award-winning disability campaigner. Jonathan has gained a great deal from his role as a trustee, and as a professional fundraiser in his day-to-day work, Jonathan has particular responsibility on the Dyspraxia Foundation board for income generation, and also serves on the board of Europe’s largest professional fundraising event, Fundraising Convention. In addition to this, Jonathan serves as North West Area Coordinator of the Shannon Trust, a charity which inspires and trains prisoners who can read to teach prisoners who can’t. He previously worked for a Member of Parliament and served as a councillor. As a disabled person, Jonathan has had to overcome numerous barriers throughout his life and is highly passionate about increasing equality, diversity, and inclusion on charity boards.

When he was 22 Jonathan spoke out about having dyspraxia by writing a newspaper feature. Jonathan not only won an award for this, but as a result of seeing the article, Dyspraxia Foundation got in touch and offered him a trustee role. He has now been on the board there for 6 years.

We chatted with Jonathan about his experiences and his top tips for being a trustee.

How did you become a trustee?

I have a disability called dyspraxia that affects fine and gross motor skills. Although I’ve been aware of this from a young age, in my first job, working for an MP I learnt so much about how it affects me and felt compelled to speak out. I wrote a newspaper feature that got a greater response than I ever expected and I won an award for it. It was through this feature that the Dyspraxia Foundation found out about me and shortly afterwards they asked me to become a trustee.

How has being a board member helped you in your paid job?

Professionally I work as a fundraiser and acquiring experience as a board member responsible for monitoring the governance and strategic side of things, rather than undertaking the operational delivery myself, is a good contrast to what I’m used to and has provided me with valuable insight, thus broadening my thinking and helping me to make better decisions.

In my charity sector job I was the youngest employee so everyone else had more life experience than me, but when the organisation once held an open board meeting in which each member of staff had to do a presentation on their work to trustees, I remember being surprised that many staff were really daunted beforehand, almost like they were entering a territory completely unknown to them.

Due to being a trustee of another organisation, I didn’t feel the same pressure as my colleagues and recognised that the trustees were fellow human beings who in a different capacity were involved in the running of the charity. I didn’t see it as an “us and them” situation and I was keen to build engagement in whatever ways I could.

Also, in my paid work, lots of fundraisers moan about their boards whilst some trustees have unrealistic expectations of their organisation’s staff, but being both a fundraiser and board member myself helps me to be able to see both sides and competently manage expectations.

How would you define success for yourself?

My disability has undoubtedly shaped me and I’m well aware of the evidence around the impact being disabled can have on life chances, including economically. Growing up, I definitely felt like I was expected to achieve less than my peers.

I recall being told: “it will be difficult for you to achieve much, you may never be able to speak properly, hold down a job, live independently, have relationships etc.”. Yet I much prefer to turn a “can’t” into a “can”.

I’ve often felt I’ve had to work harder than many of my peers to overcome barriers and achieve things and this has made me very resilient. Success for me is about knowing what you want and why you want it, mapping out how you plan to achieve it and ultimately putting in the hard work to make it happen.

I’m attracted to leadership roles such as being an Ambassador for the Young Trustees Movement because I like to engage and connect others, and play my part in driving change in society. That’s essentially what charities are about; there is a need, there are problems to be overcome, and charities offer the solutions. In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be the need for charities to exist but that’s not the reality, so I love to tackle issues head on and play my part in making a fundamental difference.

What is the biggest misconception you have about the topic of either charity or young trusteeship?

There’s a misconception that young people don’t have anything to offer. “They’re too young...”, “what do they know?” – that kind of thing. That’s not true!

Charities who do take on young trustees sometimes put them in the corner, or box them off as being a young trustee on the board and nothing else. I’m still the youngest trustee on the Dyspraxia Foundation board but I’m not there as the ‘young’ trustee.

With some charities, it’s like a tick-box exercise, “Yeah, we’ve got a young trustee now, we’ve done our bit” but then what sometimes happens is that young trustee doesn’t actually feel like their opinions have much gravitas and inevitably they end up leaving, or at least not playing as active a role as they’d have liked.

The mistake is appointing someone solely as a ‘young’ trustee, rather than as a trustee who has just as much to offer as their older peers, and has a passion and commitment for the cause.

What have you done to help you develop the skills and knowledge needed as a trustee?

I’ve undertaken lots of research on best practice, along with undertaking training in governance and strategy, leadership, PR, safeguarding, social media and other topics; both individually and as part of the board. I love learning and constantly want to be the best I can be.

I’ve also undertaken work around equality, diversity, and inclusion and the statistics around this in the charity sector are damning, particularly at a higher level, so I’m always mindful of this.

I like to network, so I enjoy building all sorts of relationships both offline and online, and I subscribe to various charity sector bulletins to stay up to date too.

Can you tell me about the process of you adjusting to the boardroom? Did it take you a while to develop a voice in your boardroom as the youngest member?

From my first meeting I felt able to speak up and have my say – I didn’t apply to become a trustee; I was asked, so I suppose this helped me to immediately feel like my voice mattered.

Regardless of age, I think it’s important to ask questions. In my first few meetings I asked lots of questions and learnt a great deal. If you need to ask questions or challenge something you don’t agree with – that’s what you’re appointed to do; if you’re a trustee, you’re at the highest tier of governance. You have a duty, and an obligation to speak up. But naturally, the longer I’ve been involved, the more experienced I’ve become and the more comfortable I’ve felt about being vocal.

What would you say has been your greatest reward in your young trustee journey so far?

I like to think I’ve given a lot, but equally I’ve gained more back than I ever expected.

I’ve gained skills, connections, a sense of community, and a lot of satisfaction. I’ve met many fantastic people and I feel I’ve achieved and been involved with many things including setting and monitoring strategy, improving fundraising efficiency, along with undertaking media work, public speaking and engagement with politicians.

Equally my personal ambition and aspiration has increased too, and I think that’s partly because I’ve seen how much greatness there is in the charity sector and what a huge difference it makes.

If you’d like to hear more from Jonathan you can watch a live Q&A with him here

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