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Why aren’t more young people trustees?

At university and school lots of my friends held positions of responsibility in clubs and groups, whether they were head boy, treasurer of their football team, or even head of a student union. Now I could probably count on one hand the number of people who hold a position like this, outside work.

The Charity Commission website notes that young people are seriously under-represented on charity trustee boards.

At present, less than 4,000 of the 800,000 plus charity trustees in England and Wales are under 25 – that’s less than 1%. Yet these young people can bring enthusiasm, different skills and a fresh perspective that is valuable to many charities. In our report on trusteeship last year, Board matters, we also noted that trusteeship could be a useful occupation for job seekers in the recession, as a way for people to learn new skills and add something valuable to their CV.

So what has stopped young people seeking positions of responsibility, such as trusteeship, once they leave university?

The obvious answer is time. Many young people, particularly those who work in industries with long working hours, feel neither able, nor inclined to give up their spare time to volunteer as a trustee. They may also lack confidence in their suitability, and assume that charities want trustees with much more experience under their belts. But many young people have really valuable skills that charities are calling out for. At NPC, we believe that if the government is serious about promoting volunteering and getting more people involved in delivering its vision of the Big Society, then it needs to take more steps to address this. One recommendation we put forward in our upcoming update on trusteeship for example, (also highlighted in Board matters last year), is for the Government and other employers to consider giving employees a right to time off work to undertake voluntary tasks such as being a trustee. This, we believe, could help increase diversity and the number of people on boards. Employers could also provide training to help them fulfil the role of trustee as effectively as possible.

A second reason why more young people aren’t stepping forward to become trustees is a lack of awareness. I have friends in the private sector who volunteer as mentors or do pro bono work for their firm, but few of them know that they could be a charity trustee, or understand what this role would involve. Many are scared of the liabilities attached to the role. To address this maybe we need to see more charities going to universities to speak about the role young people can play on boards? Or maybe HR departments in big companies need to promote trusteeship to their staff as a feasible and attractive option? As we discuss in our update, there are an increasing number of services and resources to support trustee recruitment, which can help to overcome this barrier. Some of these organisations, such as Getting on Board, are working with professional associations, employers and employees to highlight the benefits of board-level volunteering with charities, schools and public bodies.

At NPC a number of our staff members in their twenties sit on trustee boards or are school governors (not that surprising perhaps considering the nature of NPC’s work). Look out for a blog next week from one of our staff members on what it’s like being a young trustee and what the role involves. We think it would be great if more young people realised that trusteeship was not a position only reserved for middle-aged, retired men, and instead saw it as a great opportunity to get some board-level experience while at the same time helping a worthwhile cause.

8 Comments

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Why aren’t more young people trustees? | New Philanthropy Capital's Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. Hi Jane,

    Great article, I think there is a strong case for young people to have representation on charity boards. I often speak to people within the sector and many of them tell me they would love to have younger people on the board of their charity.

    I agree with you that awareness of trustee opportunities is one barrier to young people becoming involved with trusteeship. Another issue lays in the attitudes of some charity boards, who feel being an effective trustee and having the ability to make high level strategic decisions only comes about with age.

    With web technology evolving rapidly, I believe that charities especially smaller ones who do not involve younger trustees run the risk of quickly becoming out of touch with technology. This could affect the charities ability to engage with a segment of their potential target audience and in these increasingly tough times for the voluntary sector this is a risk many charities can not afford to take.

    Of course experience is essential to every board and I am not advocating only having young trustees. I am myself currently a trustee on the youth led charity the Young Achievers Trust and we have a group of valued special advisors to guide us in our decision making process.

    These are a couple of ideas for how we can get more young trustees in the sector:

    • Charities have two trustees under 30 who almost act as technology/digital communications advisors and are possibly mentored by board members
    • Trustee opportunities are promoted through universities career services
    • Youth led boards with special advisors

    Damien Clarkson

    • Thanks Damien for your reply. It’s a very interesting and valid point you make about the technology and social media expertise younger board members can bring. I agree that charities that don’t engage with this, particularly those that work with young people, can be missing a great opportunity.
      And the idea of advertising on university career sites seems to make alot of sense too – it would certainly help younger people to realise that being a trustee is an option open to them.

      Best wishes
      Jane

  3. Awesome article. Made me think a lot that its one thing to encourage young people to do this (which I do) and another thing to let them know where the opportunities are and how they can be involved.

  4. This is a good question.

    Why aren’t more young people stepping up to the place to take care of our future as trustees?

    How about this little tidbit?

    • 83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.
    • 61 percent of Americans “always or usually” live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.
    • 66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.
    • 36 percent of Americans say that they don’t contribute anything to retirement savings.
    • A staggering 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement.
    • 24 percent of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year.
    • Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.
    • Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975

    Perhaps if there was more income equality in America, we would see an increase in young trustees.

    Hmmmm.

    Mazarine

    Statistics from From Danny Schecter on Buzzflash
    http://blog.buzzflash.com/node/11593

  5. I think there’s the potential to partner with some organisations to encourage this within their membership. JCI is one that comes to mind to me. How do organisations line that FIND those charities that are looking for trustees though?

    As an aside, this has reminded me of one of my goals this year – to become a trustee. Even better, take that experience of finding the right organisation and the right role, and using that to encourage others.

  6. This is a problem that I have been thinking about for some time and I set up a group on LinkedIn called ‘Young Charity Trustees’. http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Young-Charity-Trustees-3904769

    Please take a look and join if you’re interested. The point of the group is both to encourage young people to become trustees and to support those who have already taken a role on. The group membership is not just young people, but also anyone who can give advice or encouragement. I hope that any organisation which is interested in these issues will post on the group so as to get a little publicity for their efforts. There is a lot of good work already being done in this area that most people don’t know about.

  7. I was a trustee of The Woodcraft Folk for a year when I was 19, but then, as a youth empowerment organisation, they were extremely supportive and had mechanisms in place to ensure a percentage of trustees elected were under 25.

    My experience with some other organisations has been less good, even now in my later 20s, I often encounter a lack of enthusiasm for new ideas and fresh faces. People expect you either to know how things work and who to talk to without any proper induction, or they assume you know have no relevant knowledge and act in a patronising manner. Frequently I have raised issues of concern to me, or ideas for progress and the answer is either “We’ve tried that before & it didn’t work” “Too radical/ only for your niche” or “You haven’t thought that through”.
    Organisations often need a good shake up, and need to provide adequate support to those new to the role. Experienced trustees/members need to provide a can-do attitude, and constructively explain where areas of difficulties may arise, whilst suggesting options to explore and resolve them.

    A certain level of comprehension with terms such as AGM, constitutional amendment, quoracy, is also assumed. I was familiar with these terms coming from a politically active family, but many of my peers will still not have encountered them. Perhaps the teaching of citizenship is slowly changing this, I don’t know.

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