Guest post by Nicholas Fryer
If only they were asked, how many young people would love to become charity trustees?
At a time when many young people are struggling to find work and enhance their CVs and charities are desperately in need of good board members, faced with unprecedented levels of need and funding cuts, is there a role for young people on the highest governing bodies of charitable organisations? And if there is, what should be done about it?
These are some of the questions the online survey Young, Gifted &…a Charity Trustee? set out to answer, hoping to shed light on a little-researched area.
Conducted on a voluntary basis on behalf of Young Charity Trustees (YCT) between July 15th and 23rd this year by myself, Nicholas Fryer, for a Charityworks graduate programme assignment, this blog post showcases the survey’s results.
Young people are a rare sight on charity boards in England and Wales, with 16-24s accounting for just 0.5% of trustees, according to the Charity Commission report A Breath of Fresh Air (2010), posing serious questions about diversity and representativeness. What is more, a Governance Hub and OPM 2006 survey of English trustees and charities suggested that almost half of charities had difficulty filling trustee roles.
Young Charity Trustees (YCT) is a voluntary initiative, founded by Alex Swallow in 2011, which is dedicated to promoting youth trusteeship and supporting young trustees, accomplishing this through its Ambassadors and its online presence. The survey Young, Gifted and…a Charity Trustee? was advertised through social media by Alex and I, and sought responses from people aged 35 and under in the UK, primarily using open-ended questions to examine:
· Awareness & experiences of trusteeship
· Interest in becoming a trustee &/or reasons for not doing so
· How charities might encourage youth trusteeship
198 young people, 90 with trustee experience, filled in the survey. While the sample was unrepresentative (59% female, 45% 3rd sector employed and 89% educated to degree level equivalent or higher) the responses offer an insight into young people’s diverse views on trusteeship and their perceptions of the way that the role is presented to them.
· 85% of young people surveyed who had no experience of trusteeship would consider becoming a trustee in future
· Of the young people with experience as trustees who rated this experience in the survey, 82% rated it positively and only 2% negatively
· The most common reason given for becoming a trustee was that it was an opportunity to give back, get more involved, or support an organisation or cause that the person cared about (53% of question respondents)
· The 2nd most important reason for having become a trustee was the opportunity to learn, gain experience and skills or maintain skills (40%).
The 2 most common recommendations of respondents for how charities should encourage young people to become trustees fell into the following categories:
1. Increase understanding and awareness of trusteeship (19% of all respondents)
2. Advertise, publicise and promote the role and vacancies (18%)
How young trustees rated their experience
Asked to rate the experience on a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 was very negative and 5 very positive, of those young people with experience as trustees who gave a rating, 33 (45%) gave a positive and 27 (37%) gave a very positive rating. Only 2 respondents gave negative ratings, illustrating how rewarding trusteeship can be for young people.
Why they became a trustee
Asked why they became trustees, the most common responses were: 1) the chance to give back and support a cause, 53% of question respondents; 2) gain or maintain skills and experience, 40%; 3) continue involvement with a cause or organisation, 21%; or 4) use one’s skills for an organisation’s benefit, 21%.
(Click on the graph below for a clearer list of the reasons offered)
How they became trustees
In discussing why they became trustees, 21 respondents described how they became trustees, with 9 mentioning Student Union involvement and 10 stating that they were asked. The opportunity for fruitful collaboration between student unions and charities seeking young trustees is explored in Laura Hyde’s 2011 report A Hidden Gem.
While the purpose was not to examine how trustees came to their roles, it is illustrative that only 1 respondent mentioned applying for an advert and only 1 mentioned that the charity they joined was setting out to diversify their Board/find a young person.
There may be scope for more advertising aimed specifically at young people (as the recommendations below suggest).
Young people who aren’t Trustees
Of respondents without trustee experience, 45 respondents (42% of all respondents without trustee experience) had considered becoming a trustee before.
When those who had not considered trusteeship before were asked why, respondents cited lack of skills, experience and knowledge of an organisation (10 responses), lack of time (9) or opportunity (8) and lack of awareness that it was an option (5) and of what trusteeship is (4). Lack of awareness is not an issue only of the young; Board Matters, published by New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) in 2009, suggested as few as 5% of people are aware they can become charity trustees.
As for why respondents without trustee experience had considered it, their primary reasons of wanting to develop their skills, experience and networks (24 responses), and wishing to contribute to a cause or organisation (22 responses), closely mirror the reasons for becoming trustees of those who already have board experience.
(Click on the graph for a clearer list of the reasons)
Would they consider it in future?
Asked if they would consider becoming trustees in future, given a brief explanation of trusteeship, the vast majority of those without trustee experience would consider it, (92 of 102 respondents to the question). Among reasons given by the remaining 10 respondents for not considering trusteeship in future, no common themes stood out, though 2 felt they lacked enough knowledge of the role to be able to consider it.
This is in line with November 2012 poll findings by the Charities Aid Foundation that a large majority of young people would consider becoming trustees.
Recommendations for encouraging young people to become trustees
Asked “Is there anything which charities should do to encourage young people to become trustees?”, 158 respondents replied, 70 with and 88 without trustee experience. Both groups’ responses showed remarkable similarity and the Chart below illustrates the 10 most common recommendations (click for a clearer list).
The most frequently offered recommendations were 1) increasing awareness and understanding, 2) better publicity and advertising, including of vacancies, 3) targeted recruitment of young people.
Notably, the need for support for young trustees, or support to help young people develop the understanding and skills to become a trustee, was primarily suggested by those with trustee experience.
These recommendations support NPC’s 2009 report Board Matters, which suggests that more advertising could increase board diversity but support for existing boards is important too. According to the Institute for Philanthropy’s The State of UK Charity Boards (2011), only 20% of boards use advertising as a primary means of recruitment, with almost half of new trustee appointments coming from personal recommendations from trustees, meaning new trustees are recruited from existing trustees’ social networks and often have similar backgrounds.
For support for young trustees to develop understanding and skills, The State of UK Charity Boards notes that for trustees of any age, 6% of boards offer no induction to new board members and 14% only limited briefings, with 44% of boards not providing any on-going sector or functional training.
The survey suggests that in large part young people would consider becoming charity trustees and those that do gain a lot. Their motivations include personal development and supporting a cause or organisation they care about. A common theme through the results is the importance of aiding young people’s understanding and awareness of trusteeship, a key recommendation of the young people surveyed. If charities are serious about encouraging young people onto their boards, they should pay heed to the call for more advertising of trustee opportunities and more support for existing trustees.
These results justify Young Charity Trustees’ dual focus on increasing awareness and offering support, and offer insight into what motivates young people to become trustees.
In response to these findings YCT Founder Alex Swallow commented:
‘The survey data fits with the anecdotes I’ve picked up from a lot of young people- those who become Trustees generally get a lot out of it, but a commitment to Board diversity from charities is patchy. I have seen some amazing examples of individual charities doing good work in this area, but sector-wide we all need to up our game.
‘Getting more young people to become Trustees is an area that has great potential. It is a classic win-win. Handled correctly, young people will get experience, skills, networking opportunities and the chance to give something back, while charities will broaden the range of committed people who will be able to help steer them through challenging times.’
 Support and Resource Needs of Trustees and Chairs in Voluntary and Community Organisations (Governance Hub and Office for Public Management: Sept 2006): 4.