Young trustees have more to offer than working on youth campaigns
People say to me that young people should be on charity boards because they can help to deliver projects for young people. During my trusteeships, it’s become apparent that this argument is: a) not strong enough, b) not convincing enough, or c) is tokenistic and patronising.
It demonstrates some of the sector’s leaders’ ignorance about the potential talent of young people. But to really make a difference in the governance of an organisation and to ensure that participation is meaningful, an organisation’s board has to be convinced.
As a trustee, sometimes my naivety and lack of knowledge is exactly what is needed during a board discussion. I’ll ask a question on what seems to be a simple issue, and more often than not other trustees around the table admit they weren’t quite following the conversation or understanding all of the technical points that were being made.
Since I started as a trustee, my role within the organisations with which I work has changed. Initially, I only dealt with youth and participation issues. Now I’m involved in marketing, communications, digital needs, fundraising strategies, organisational risks and the recruitment of trustees and CEOs.
Of course, I still have a lot to learn, which is why young trustees must utilise the knowledge of the rest of their board and staff. I’ve learnt from colleagues and fellow trustees, who have always been open and willing to help.
Young people are particularly effective at scrutinising programming, communication and fundraising outputs. I think we offer a unique level of untapped potential and ability. In marketing and communications young people can offer excellent input into discussions around modern marketing techniques. Social networking and media are becoming more influential in charity marketing, fundraising and general communications.
We have naturally incorporated Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube into own everyday lives; whereas some more experienced professionals have had to consciously learn and adapt to the fast growing market. I’m not suggesting our input is infallible, but combined with the expertise of trained colleagues, who have invaluable experience on the disciplines of communication, we can offer a much more valid, relevant and powerful perspective.
Since joining, I’ve witnessed a change in the working culture and landscape at Plan. We now have young trustees in four (Norway, Sweden, Finland & UK) of our seventeen national offices. This was not a joint collaboration, but rather a realisation by four offices that they were missing young potential.
However, there is still more convincing to be done. While these represent great steps forward for Plan, the big issue is still that young people remain disastrously under-represented on UK charity boards. With less than one per cent of trustees being under 25, while they represent 12 per cent of the UK population, we still have a lot of work to do.
Colleagues continue to underestimate the value that young people can bring to boards, and still think we can only deal with trivial issues. But I’m here to argue that that’s not the case.