by Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Fellow Maddy Lewis, Philanthropy Executive at the Southbank Centre and Trustee at UpRising
Currently, less than 3% of charity trustees are under 30. To contextualise this a little, 18 to 29 year olds make up around 13% of the UK’s population. As such, under 30s are vastly underrepresented on boards, with even fewer trustees aged 25 and under. The average age bracket of a trustee is currently between 55 and 64 years old. Even this has actually come down significantly over the last few years, as charities have begun to address this lack of age diversity and take active steps to recruit younger board members.
One of the key areas that is affected by having a lack of diversity in age range on a board is its fundraising function, and without young people being allowed a seat at the table on boards across the non-profit and cultural sector, there is a real risk of limiting the potential of fundraising and innovative income generation.
As charities and their boards push to recruit and effectively support young trustees, they will not only strengthen their governance, but also heighten their chances of dynamic fundraising, with a wider scope of knowledge, skills, experience and perspective.
The importance of diverse trustee boards:
Encouragingly, an increasing number of charities and non-profits are beginning to actively address the lack of age diversity on their board of trustees. Diversity on a trustee board is crucial to effective governance, and for a strong and varied approach to fundraising. The importance of diversity amongst boards spans far beyond age range; it is also vital to have representation from people of different races, backgrounds, sectors, gender identities, and those with disabilities. Without it, there is a high risk of having a limited or blinkered perspective, and a danger of lack of diversity of thought.
This can be highly risky when it comes to fundraising, as it can lead to stagnant, outdated and less effective approaches to income generation.
Boards that are flexible, with members from varied backgrounds, perspectives and experiences can ensure that their decision making and fundraising strategy planning is more fully considered and analysed, increasing the effectiveness and impact of whilst also reducing risk.
The Charity Commission believes that the governance of charities will be improved where trustees are recruited from a wide range of backgrounds, especially those who “have not traditionally played a large part in charities”, noting that this includes ‘young people’. The Commission also states that a diverse board comes with a greater assurance that a charity is transparent in all of its delivery and dealings, which means that there is an increased accountability for the actions of the charity. Public confidence in the organisation is boosted, and from this stems a greater chance of donors being willing to contribute financially to the organisation.
How young trustees can support fundraising on boards:
Young trustees can lack connections or personal wealth, and so they may not be able to support the charity in the more traditional ways, such as via donations or introductions. However, young people can contribute to a board’s fundraising approach in other ways, helping to ensure that it is robust and dynamic.
Young people can bring an energy and enthusiasm to boards; they are likely to absorb and notice cultural and societal trends and phenomena that can be utilised to develop relevant and contemporary fundraising strategies. They also tend to be more flexible; young people in general having freer schedules and less dependents. As such, they may have more capacity to help and time to give. They can lead on fundraising campaigns and ideas or support the organisation through meetings with prospective donors.
Young people often also have a good grasp on digital technology and how this can be utilised for the benefit of fundraising in new and innovative ways.
Including talented young trustees on boards ensures diversity of thought and reduces the chance of an echo-chamber approach to fundraising. This is vital to a high-performing board, mitigating risk and reducing vulnerability. Young people can bring a fresh perspective, understand issues through different contexts and can help to challenge outdated approaches.
Dependent on the charity’s mission and work, recruiting young trustees is also an excellent way of reflecting the people or communities that the organisation works for, ensuring beneficiaries are represented and advocated for.
How to make your board more accessible to young people:
There are several barriers which can impede the recruitment of young people for trustee roles, and also prevent them from applying. This can include a general lack of understanding about what a trusteeship is, its duties and the opportunities can be gained from it. Other barriers include costs surrounding training and upskilling new and inexperienced trustees, resistance from existing board members or senior staff, and difficulty in finding young people to recruit in the first place.
At times the role and its responsibilities can be perceived as overwhelming. As a result, young trustees may lack confidence in their own skills and experience. There is also the potential that current trustees can be isolated as the sole person under 30 on their board, feeling their place tokenistic and their voices unheard.
It is vital that board’s do not recruit young people to simply check a box. Recruitees must have their voices heard in decisions, be supported to understand their duties and responsibilities, and be encouraged and listened to.
To help young people feel like they belong on boards, recruitment must be tailored towards younger people, be clear about the role and emphasise some of the key things that they could bring to the board and why this would be valuable even if they don’t have decades of experience. Charities should be willing to invest in training to ensure that their trustees are best equipped for the role and uphold excellent governance - this will pay off in the long run.
Being a young trustee has so many benefits for young people. It develops strategic and decision-making skills, builds confidence within a leadership role, and gives them the opportunity to have a real impact for social good. Investing in boards, supporting and learning from young people, ensures the empowerment of the sector’s future leaders, and allows for stronger and more effective fundraising planning.
Want to learn more about the difference you could make as a young trustee? Or the benefits of getting young trustees on your board? Join us at our Be A Trustee training this November. You can find out more about what Maddy and the Southbank are up to @southbankcentre and follow UpRising's work @UpRising