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blog • Resource

Why do boards need young trustees

Megan Raybould

04 April 2020

The young trustees movement was set up with the aim of doubling the number of trustees by 2024. We believe there are SO MANY reasons for young people to be appointed for boards.

Why do we need the young trustee movement?

The young trustees movement was set up with the aim of doubling the number of trustees by 2024. We believe there are SO MANY reasons for young people to be appointed for boards.

We, as a movement exist, because we believe that the charity sector is missing out on a huge amount of skill and knowledge that is crucial to some of the big challenges that we face at the moment. If you look at social justice issues young people are often at the forefront of thinking about those things. We’re missing out on a lot if we’re not including young people in charity governance.

It could be young people who are up and coming in that particular sector or young people that are bringing a specific skill a board needs across the board.

There needs to be a change in attitude to young people and what young people can bring because of the extent to which adults make assumptions about how much young people know. There is something about the energy, drive and the ability of young people to imagine the world differently. Organisations should try and harness some of that passion and energy by recruiting more young people on boards.

To hear more about this, you can listen to this podcast where Mita, Young Trustee Programme Manager talks Jo Wells, director of the Blagrave Trust about why the movement is so needed. I’d really recommend giving it a listen!

What are the benefits of including young people on your board? If I had the choice between a trustee with more ‘life experience’, why would I pick a young trustee?

Reach volunteering have put together this great article about the benefits of young trustees:

They say that young trustees benefit the board through:

  • Providing a different insight and perspective, which ultimately will lead to better governance.
  • Benefiting the charity sector as a whole as it helps to engage younger people with the charities and develop the next generation of potential charity leaders.
  • Enthusiasm for learning the role as they are often keen to develop their existing skills whilst helping a charitable cause. This enthusiasm means that they will engage fully and will bring creativity and new ideas.
  • Having new ideas and perspectives on your board which challenges long standing beliefs and systems.
  • If your beneficiaries include young people, young trustees can provide useful insight and perspectives on beneficiary needs and experience, and increase the board’s credibility in the eyes of this group.

The Charities Aid Foundation conducted research that backs this up. And adds additional benefits such as:

  • 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
  • Young trustees are often hungry to learn and make a difference – when given confidence, they may also ask the questions others won’t.

You can read their full guide here. 

Young people should be part of boards so they can represent young peoples’ voices, right? Well, not exactly…

In this insightful post, BYC Trustee Joe talks about what he offers the board, as a young trustee. And, importantly what he doesn’t:

“ I am not a trustee to represent ‘all young people’. I am not a voice of my generation. I maybe have a slightly better understanding of them than a 50 year old, but I don’t know specifically how young black Muslims are affected by Brexit, for example. If you want to know that, talk to them. Don’t ask me “what do young people think?”. That’s not engaging young people, that’s patronising them.”

Rather than just being on the board just to offer a young persons’ perspective, young people have skills, experiences and abilities that will benefit the board in the same way that older members of the board do too.

What can I, as a young person, offer to a board?

‘What can you offer the board’ - this is a relevant question. But, it’s something that should be considered of all trustees’ who are appointed. A great board will have people from different backgrounds, with different skills, abilities, knowledge and experience.

In the member spotlight stories we’ve heard so far, we know that both Leon Ward and Jonathan Levy had particular skills to offer the board.

From what I’ve been learning, I believe that a willingness to learn, to work hard and put the needs of the charity at the centre of the decisions made is central to being a good trustee, and that’s something a young person can offer to the same degree as a trustee of any age.

Why do boards need young trustees if young people aren’t interested in governance? Are trustee roles too  boring for young people?

I think this is a bit of a myth! Some young people won’t find governance riveting, but others will genuinely find it interesting.

Cordelia Sampson, Chair of Trustees at Edinburgh Students' Charities Appeal puts it well:

"Most of your organisations probably have young volunteers, If they're volunteering, they ARE interested in your charity and if they're interested in your charity, the chances are they might be interested in having a say at board level.

Do you find board meetings boring? If not, why do you assume young people will? Over 90% of trustees find the role personally rewarding and regard it as important or very important to them."

Why do boards need young trustees when having them creates lots of work for boards?

In last weeks’ member spotlight story Leon Ward talked about boards changing the way they work to make an accessible space for young people. The result of doing this  - a more accessible space for everyone.

Leon pointed out that it often falls to young people on the board to ask ‘what’s going on?’.  And, in his experience, there are always other board members who had been thinking the same thing but never had the confidence to ask.

It may well take more work to include diverse voices in your boardroom - that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. In this case, to adapt the board to work for young people may take time and effort, particularly at first. But, as BYC trustee Jo puts it: “Young people are able if you are willing”.

What if young people are only doing it for their CVs - do we still need young trustees?

Alice Fuller addressed this one in a Guardian article…….

"But, if young people are really only doing it for their CVs, why are people at the ends of their careers – who make up the majority of trustees – doing it? Many young people are doing it for exactly the same reason as their older counterparts: because they enjoy the challenge and sense of fulfilment."

"Even if the accusation is true, does it matter? If by "doing it for their CV" we mean actively seeking to gain the skills and confidence needed to progress a career and perhaps one day run an organisation, this is hardly a bad thing for the voluntary sector and society as a whole.”

She concludes:

“The motivation for having young people on boards should be exactly the same as the widely accepted practice of having trustees from a range of professional backgrounds: to ensure a diversity of opinion and contribution.”

Why is the percentage of young people on charity boards so low?

One of the key reasons for this, is that there isn’t much awareness about trusteeships. The Charities Commission's research concluded less than 5% of people are aware that trusteeship can be a way to support a charity. Referenced here. 

Even when young people know about trusteeship, they may not be aware that they have the skills for the role. It’s a myth that needs breaking down.

The Young Trustees Movement is about spreading the message that you don’t necessarily need to have worked for 50 years, have gone to university, to be from a certain background or to look a certain way to be a good trustee. From what I’ve read, I understand that a good boardroom includes a diverse range of people in terms of life experience, backgrounds, skills and knowledge.

How is the sector missing out if they don’t include young people on boards?

In 2019 we saw a rise in youth-led action -from the climate strikes to campaigning to end period poverty. There seemed to be more recognition that young people from all backgrounds, should be involved in conversations and decision making at all levels, including in the boardroom!

You can re-watch the live Q&A about this topic with Jonathan Levy on our YouTube Channel now by clicking here. Jonathan offers more in depth answers and a different perspective on the questions asked.

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