Trusteeship: Getting younger people involved

3 November 2011

Alex Swallow works in development and communications for a small national charity. He has been a Trustee at Centre 404 for more than two years. At the AGM this summer he also became Co Vice Chair and Company Secretary. As well as his work as a trustee he is a mentor on a leadership programme at the Young Foundation, has been an intern for two MPs and worked in Japan. He is passionate about getting younger people involved in Trusteeship. 

Trustees’ Week is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate people who are already doing great things as Trustees and to attract more people to Trusteeship. My personal focus is to try to get young people interested. About a year ago I was at the NCVO Annual Trustee Conference and when I looked around it struck me how few younger people there were. I started to investigate the national situation a little more and found some shocking statistics from the Charity Commission about how few younger people are involved: 0.5% of people between the ages of 18 and 24.

In this I saw a problem and an opportunity. The problem is that charities are missing out on the skills and talents of a large part of the population. Young people are the leaders of tomorrow – if for whatever reason they don’t feel able to be involved in a charity at a decision making level that is surely a shame and a minus for the sector. But the opportunity is that in many cases I believe that young people simply do not realise that they are able to be Trustees. So, if we were able to raise awareness, we could make a large difference quickly. Also, in this economic climate it is even more important for younger people to acquire transferrable skills and being a Trustee gives you the potential to learn a huge range.

I decided to set up a group called ‘Young Charity Trustees’ on LinkedIn. It now has more than 200 members, including some of the youngest trustees in the country and senior professionals who are able to offer advice. People in the group are asking questions and starting debates about the duties of Trusteeship, inquiring about how to become a Trustee and supporting others. I’ve started to work with both local and national organisations to promote the group and am encouraging them to post Trustee opportunities with us as well. In addition, I am trying to bring attention to organisations around the country who are already doing great work in this area and have innovative approaches to getting younger people involved at Board level. If the group encourages even a single young person to consider trusteeship I will be happy.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my own time as a Trustee so far. Centre 404 handled everything so well that they have given me a lot of ideas about how to make potential younger trustees feel comfortable about joining a charity. It is of course important that when younger people do become Trustees that they are made to feel welcome and supported in the organisation. But the real problem is simply that many are never asked to be involved. Hopefully Trustees’ Week this week will go some way towards changing that.

This is the fourth in a series of blogs to mark Trustees’ Week, an annual event to showcase the great work that trustees do and highlight opportunities for people from all walks of life to get involved and make a difference. You can find out more about Trustees’ Week and about becoming a trustee here.