You’re a trustee? Really?

By Sarah Hedley 4 August 2010

Lots of my friends were surprised when they heard I’d applied to be a trustee. Their ideas of trustees were generally male and middle-aged. So, being female and 24, I didn’t exactly fit the bill. Nor do I fit the stats: as Jane’s post last week highlighted, fewer than 1% of trustees are under 25.

Last week’s blog also picked up on reasons stopping young people from becoming trustees. One of these is that many don’t believe they are suitable trustee-material because they think they lack the necessary skills and experience.

I reckon that, most of the time, this is nonsense.

The charity I’m a trustee of is called Hackney Quest (HQ). HQ does really exciting work with young people in Hackney––a deprived borough in East London––from running social and educational activities, to getting young people involved with community events, to providing support to their parents and families. Now, I can’t say I really know all that much about the needs of young people in Hackney, nor what works when it comes to helping them become more engaged and involved members of the local community (although I’m starting to learn).

What I know more about, from my time so far at NPC and, previously, at Intelligent Giving, are the rules that regulate charities, how charities should be reporting and communicating what they’ve achieved, and some of the best-practice on policies and procedures that all charities should have in place. This doesn’t have that much to do with what HQ does day-to-day. But it is (I hope!) useful nonetheless, for example by helping navigate the reams of regulations and best-practice guidance around running an effective charity.

And it’s not just (somewhat geeky) charity knowledge that’s relevant. Charities need the same kind of advice that any other organisation needs, such as legal advice, web design or marketing expertise. Let me give you an example. A few months ago, HQ decided to rent an additional building to house its project providing advice and support for local parents, and its education programme for those temporarily excluded from school. In order to secure the property, HQ needed not just the support and enthusiasm of the staff, but the advice of lawyers to scrutinise the contract and a surveyor to check over the building, both of whom gave their time and expertise pro bono. They were part of the reason why HQ successfully secured the new building and, as a result, the new parenting support project will be supporting 50 local parents in the next year, and the education programme now runs in a roomier and more suitable location.

The point is that charities can use all kinds of skills to help them achieve their mission. I have to admit to being bemused in the past by friends who are qualified up the eyeballs but who think of volunteering for charity as painting walls, or sitting in a bathtub of baked beans. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with either of these things (although baked beans, really?) but more that young people can often deliver more value to charities by using the skills they already have. This is on top of the enthusiasm and fresh perspectives that, as NPC’s latest report suggests, young people can add and charities find valuable. Trusteeship is a really positive way of doing this.