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What can young people bring to the (board) table?

Young people are the most likely to volunteer, yet they make up only 0.5% of trustees. How can charities address this?
Aisling Buckley
 

Young people are the most likely to volunteer, yet they make up only 0.5% of trustees. How can charities address this?

The age gap on trustee boards

As someone who is tightly clutching onto their Young Person’s railcard for just another year, I wasn’t surprised when I found out that young people (18 – 24 year olds) are more likely to volunteer than any other age group. We are certainly not the apathetic bunch we are sometimes made out to be; not only are we more likely to volunteer, but we also trust charities more than our parents and grandparents. But despite our keen interest in giving up our free time, a report by the Charities Aid Foundation revealed that we make up just 0.5% of trustees in England and Wales. So what are charities missing out on by not recruiting young trustees, and how can charities encourage millennials to join their boards?

How can young trustees improve charities?

  1. Having a diverse trustee board is more likely to engage wider audiences. 

Young trustees will be able to engage wider networks than their older counterparts, from schools to online platforms. They can look through the eyes of other young people and see what will get their attention, and will be more likely to use language that their peers can relate to.

  1. Young people will have fresh eyes that could challenge “long standing beliefs and systems”

The idea of being the only young trustee in a board room full of people with decades of experience in the sector is daunting – but it may be this inexperience that charities need in leaders. Young people may ask the simple questions that no one else had thought of before, and think of new solutions that more experienced trustees hadn’t considered. The older trustees will also have a safe space to ask the important questions – what is Snapchat and why does it keep deleting my photos? How do I stop accidentally double tapping on Instagram?

  1. Youth is not a bad thing – but is what charities need!

Alex Swallow, Founder of Young Charities Trustees, explained in a podcast that charities would benefit from young trustees who are not in employment, education or training because of their unique life experiences. 18 – 24 year olds have grown up amongst constantly changing technology and will be able to bring their vast knowledge of all things digital. If I knew the value I could bring to strategy-planning as a young person than I would be more likely to apply – and stay – as a trustee.

How can charities entice young people to become trustees?

It is not that young people aren’t interested in joining a trustee board – a third of young adults aged 18 – 35 said they would consider becoming a trustee – but I think what is holding young people back is that many trustee vacancies aren’t targeted enough to them. In fact, the CAF report found that volunteers tend to stay for longer when they understand the value and influence they bring to the charity. So how can charities make trustee places more accessible for young people?

  1. Focus on the skills and experience young people will gain as trustees

One of the main reasons young people volunteer is to build up their CV, so highlighting how they can nurture their decision-making skills and make a tangible contribution to your charity is important.

  1. Consider moving towards Skype meetings or weekend meetings to accommodate young people’s schedules

It may be more difficult for young people to fit meetings into their everyday schedule, so offering alternative ways to take part in meetings may lay to rest any worries young people might have about taking on too much responsibility on top of their studies or work (N.B. their responsibilities may include teaching their older counterparts how to use Skype, and explaining why they don’t need to shout at their laptop to be heard).

  1. Promote trustee vacancies online and through peer-to-peer recruitment

Young people have just about enough patience for reading piles and piles of printed out documents as they do for listening to old people say ‘in my day’. The Charity Commission interviewed young people who said they would be more interested in watching a short video, visiting a website or listening to someone their own age. 

Young people’s charities and education charities are already trying to diversify their boards, knowing that we can bring energy and digital know-how. However, once assured that I would develop my skills and be able to schedule meetings to fit around work, I would be wary that that I might not be seen as an equal in the boardroom.

Yes, I have been brought up with Myspace coming and going and can see that the end is nigh for Facebook. But as a young person I have a lot more to offer then just being tech savvy.

We have experience volunteering from an early age and working directly with fundraisers, supporters and beneficiaries. Our extensive experience working on the frontline will be invaluable in a boardroom during decision-making. As someone who has volunteered and worked for charities I have sometimes wandered why there are certain rules – and then given up trying to find out the answer after seeing the boring policy documents.

Young people can be crucial in making new decisions and updates more accessible. I would want to join trustee boards that are open to changing the way they meet, the way they make decisions and the way they inform staff and the public about these updates. Charities could start by providing induction and training not just for new young trustees – but for existing ones at the same time, as a way for everyone to develop together.  

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