Young trustees are a valuable resource for the sector, but few and far between. Nick Fryer, a Charityworks trainee 2012-13, chose to undertake a survey to explore the issue, and discusses the results here.This article was first published on The Guardian Voluntary Network.
With governance perennially in voluntary sector headlines and past indications that many charities have board vacancies, young people represent an untapped resource for trustee recruitment.
Charity Commission research suggests that 18-24 year olds made up just 0.5% of trustees in England and Wales in 2010, and the average age of a trustee is 57. Without young people as trustees, charity boards risk lacking diversity and not being representative of beneficiaries.
Despite their low representation, a new survey carried out by Young Charity Trustees reveals that young people who are trustees overwhelmingly find their experience on charity boards a positive one, and the vast majority of young people without board experience would consider becoming trustees. So why is this not happening?
This is at a time when many young people wish to gain skills and experience, and improve their CVs in the face of staggering youth unemployment and underemployment. Over a million 16 to 24-year-olds are not in education, employment or training and an NUS report earlier this year highlighted that around one in 5 recent graduates is unemployed, and one in three were employed in lower skilled jobs in 2012. The profusion of highly competitive unpaid internships in the charity sector also shows how much young people at the start of their careers want to give something back.
Yet the opportunity to do this by becoming a trustee remains unknown to many young people.
It was this problem that prompted Young Charity Trustees to carry out a survey on young people’s perceptions of being a charity trustee. The results show a real interest in trusteeship among people aged 35 and under. Of around 200 respondents, 85% would consider becoming a trustee, while 82% of those with charity board experience who rated the experience said it was positive or very positive. Only 2% rated it negatively.
Young peoples’ motivations for considering trusteeship were also very positive, with the two most common being the desire to give something back, support a cause or organisation they cared about or had been involved with and the desire to develop skills, experience and networks.
Interestingly, the most common reasons given for not having considered trusteeship before were a lack of skills, experience or knowledge, concerns about time, and not having seen or been given an opportunity to do so. The importance of awareness was apparent across the results. When asked what charities should do to encourage young people to become trustees, the two most common themes in the responses were that charities should aid understanding and awareness of the role and that they should advertise, publicise and promote the role and vacancies.
The results underline the importance of initiatives such as Young Charity Trustees, which aim to raise awareness of trusteeship among young people, as well as more general campaigns such as Trustees Week. The results also suggest how to frame and advertise trusteeship to young people, emphasising how positive the experience is for young trustees and focusing on motivations such as giving something back, volunteering in a new way for a charity or cause they care about or gaining experience and skills that they don’t get in their day job.
There are implications for charities too. Survey respondents recommended that charities advertise positions on their boards more openly, target young people and give them the confidence that when they apply they will not be discounted on the basis of their age and will be supported in trusteeship.
Clearly there is much to be done so that boards can become more representative and diverse by recruiting more young people.
Thankfully, with initiatives like Young Charity Trustees and Trustees Week, progress is already being made.