Rethinking trusteeship

Karen Lam is a junior consultant at the Social Change Agency. As a young person herself who is interested in trustee opportunities, she is delighted to be working alongside other young people and organisations to build the Young Trustees Movement, which is funded by the Blagrave Trust

The perception of a trustee is often someone at the peak of their career, having earned the position through years of experience. Certainly, the perspectives, skills and networks that are developed through time and experience are valuable. But are age and experience in a senior role the most desirable prerequisites of being a trustee?

Research shows that charity boards are around 92% white, with an average age of 60. The Social Change Agency’s Young Trustees Movement was set up to challenge the stereotypical image of trustees and to bring new and younger voices to the boardroom.

Challenging the current landscape

We believe more action is needed to start breaking down the barriers faced by younger people who want to be trustees. Supported by NCVO and the Charity Commission we are bringing together the key organisations, individuals and initiatives that have a stake in the pathway to trustee recruitment and appointment.

A trustee board must make sure that the charity is operating effectively, achieving its purpose, is properly and legally managed, and financially sound. While this is not a complete description of a trustee’s duties, nowhere in these top line responsibilities is age explicitly a necessity for a governance role. In fact, the legal minimum age to be a trustee is 16 (18 for unincorporated associations).

Why then, is senior experience and ‘older’ age currently a defining characteristic of trusteeship? More importantly, what is to stop young people aged 16 – 25 with perhaps less experience to be effective trustees?

The benefits of young trustees

While in the present, young people bring new energy, commitment and fresh perspective to direct a charity to make it stronger and more resilient for the future. Engaging with them now will make sure they have the skills and experience necessary to lead charities in the future, as well as help succession planning for trustee boards.

The government’s civil society strategy echoes this belief. It argues that the contributions of young people are vital to a thriving society, and have a critical role in helping the country tackle challenges and deliver a better future for all.

The Young Trustees Movement is just getting going, beyond our initial research phase, we have held events in London and Leeds and will be in Cardiff on the 20th of November to bring this co-creation to life.

What we have learned so far

1. Good governance appeals, regardless of age

In our initial research we asked board members about the recruitment of young people to their board. The skeptical responses included ‘we wouldn’t want young people to sit through long and boring board meetings’ or ‘young people aren’t interested in trusteeship’. This is a critical point. The mindset and framing of trusteeship as boring or dull is owned by the trustee board themselves. It is within their power to change this to be exciting, challenging and engaging. Some people love governance and age is no exception.

2. Charities need to reflect on their intentions around particular board profiles

We heard worries around younger trustee recruits being ‘tokenistic appointments’. Appointments from traditionally underrepresented and diverse backgrounds, including younger people, should be seen as individuals that can equally and meaningfully contribute to, and make, decisions at the board level.

Representation matters. Many young people we spoke to had not even considered that such a position might be open to them after seeing none of their peers on the profiles of existing trustee boards.

3. Collaboration is key

Finally, there are many key actors in the landscape working to improve the pathway of youth leadership on boards. The Oxford Hub are working on amazing initiatives such as the Young Trustee programme that connects young people with charities seeking young trustees. Some charities already involve young people at the heart of their decision-making such as Roundhouse, student unions and farmers clubs.

Our work is to bring together the organisations and individuals that are already working in this space. We want them to feel they can share and own actions as well as build networks and to increase the number of stakeholders along the way. Young people have so much to give and contribute. They want to be included in decision-making especially when it comes to our collective future.

If you want to join the Young Trustees Movement then get in touch with karen@thesocialchangeagency.org Sign up for the latest news on upcoming events, updates and more on how you can get involved.

 

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