Trustees, Governance, Leadership

It’s time to rethink trusteeship

It's time for a Board Revolution, explains Penny Wilson, CEO of Getting on Board.

As CEO of Getting on Board, a charity dedicated to changing the face of trusteeship, I know that the world of trusteeship is changing. Being a charity trustee (a volunteer who helps to lead a charity and decide how it is run) used to be seen as something for wealthy, white, older professionals only. But there’s a #BoardRevolution underway.

People are volunteering as charity trustees in greater numbers than ever, and they’re coming from more and more diverse backgrounds. Perhaps you should think about becoming a trustee?

Why are people rethinking trusteeship?

Communities have come together during the coronavirus (COVID-19) like never before. We’ve seen an upsurge in interest in volunteering, and a growing belief that we can be the change we want to see in the world.

The coronavirus has also shown us just how unequal our society is. We have seen how deep-seated inequalities – especially around race – affect our life chances. Many of us feel fired up by this knowledge, and desperate to make a change. We know that if we want to create change at the systems level, we need to have people from every background around the table while decisions are being made.

Anti-racism has finally entered the mainstream. As protests swept the world after the killing of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter was on the tip of all our tongues. In the world of trusteeship, and in the charity sector Action for Trustee Racial Diversity, #CharitySoWhite and others are highlighting the lack of people of colour at senior levels.

The demand for youth leadership is stronger than ever. Thanks to the work of groups like Young Trustees Movement and #iwill, young people quite rightly want a seat at the board table. And more and more charities are waking up to how essential this is.

4 ways we all need to rethink trusteeship

1. Trusteeship is for everyone

You may have heard that just 0.5% of trustees are aged 18-24 (source: Mind the Gap). It’s staggering that we don’t see more young adults around the table; young people deserve to be in the room when decisions are being made. And when you consider how many youth-serving charities there are, it’s all the more shocking. And we don’t just mean charities which have youth services, this also applies to charities who serve their wider communities. How can charities work with young people effectively if they don’t have people with recent, real, lived experience helping them to lead?

The stereotype of the all-white trustee board still lingers. And many charity boards are far from diverse. Only 8% of trustees are people of colour, compared to 14% of the wider population (source: Taken on Trust). Think of all that talent that charities are missing out on.

But charities everywhere are waking up to the fact that diverse teams bring diverse skills, expertise and perspectives. They can see that diverse teams deliver, in a way that homogenous teams simply cannot.

2. You have skills to offer

Becoming a trustee isn’t just for lawyers or accountants. There’s a host of skills that charities are crying out for, and many of them are skills you don’t learn on the job.

Lived experience is vitally important. Charities are waking up to the importance of having people on their boards who have had similar life experiences to the people the charity looks to serve.

Perhaps you’ve navigated the benefits system and fought for the entitlements you needed. Perhaps you experienced foster care or being adopted as a child. Perhaps you advocated for your child to get the SEN services they required. These aren’t just lived experiences. These experiences make you a better trustee, with a better understanding of how the charity needs to work with people who are going through the same life experiences.

Digital literacy is essential, and has only become more importance since COVID-19 forced so many charities to deliver services digitally. Many young people don’t realise that skills they take for granted – like knowing their way around social media – are highly valued by charity boards.

Leadership skills are needed for boards to innovate and adapt. Young people have led the way on campaigning on climate change. And yet, they are absent from many of the trustee boards of climate charities, where their skills and influence could be of huge value.

Other professional skills are in high demand. Whether that’s your experience as working as a social worker, a fundraiser or a researcher. You don’t need to have worked at a senior level to become a trustee.

Whatever your day job, you can learn how to be an effective trustee.

3. There’s a charity for everyone

Whatever you’re passionate about, there’s a charity out there for everyone.

From animal rights to conservation, early childhood education to food banks, climate change to mental health support, domestic violence refuges to dementia services, it’s incredible how many charities are out there doing fantastic work. And you can be part of them.

4. The #BoardRevolution starts with you

The Board Revolution starts with you, and it starts right now. It starts with a google search, or a chat to a friend. It starts by reading Getting on Board’s new guide How to Become a Charity Trustee.  And it starts by sharing your experiences, so you can inspire others to join the Board Revolution.