When you think of a board of trustees, you might imagine a table of retired businessmen who use their decades of experience to guide decisions for the charity. Often this is exactly the case. But it shouldn’t be.
If you have a cause you care about deeply, and a bit of spare time to dedicate to it, joining the board of a charity is one of the most impactful and meaningful ways you can help.
The best boards are made up of a diverse range of people with differing backgrounds and skillsets. But according to the Charities Aid Foundation, young people aged between 18-24 make up 0.5% of all charity trustees in the UK while the average age of charity trustees is 57. This is not diversity.
Do not underestimate the value your perspective could bring to an organisation regardless of your age or level of experience.
What is a board?
The board is the governing body which takes overall responsibility for the charity and its actions. It may also be called a management committee, a board of governors, or other terms. Likewise, trustees may also be known as committee members or directors.
The purpose of the board is to govern the charity, to make decisions regarding the running of the organisation and to ensure it stays on track, fulfilling its purpose as detailed in its governing document. Trustees don’t necessarily take part in the day-to-day roles of the charity but are responsible for making sure resources are directed to the right areas.
What is a trustee?
Trustees are the people who sit on the board and make these important decisions. They generally have defined roles such as chair, treasurer, secretary, etc. with different experience and different responsibilities on the board.
What is the expected time commitment?
This will vary from organisation to organisation but, usually, trustees meet at least four times a year. However, becoming a trustee is a long-term commitment and you must be willing to take the time to prepare well for each of these meetings and follow through on any actions after.
Things to ask an organisation ahead of agreeing to a trustee role are:
- How many meetings are there each year and how long are these?
- What contact is there between meetings?
- Am I expected to attend any events and if so, how regularly do these take place?
- What do you predict will be the total time commitment expected, including meetings and further work?
- Will there be any induction or training provided?
Are there any risks involved?
While trustees do have legal duties and potential liabilities to the organisation, the potential risks are very low. Solicitors, Russell-Cooke, state:
‘Despite the potential risks, cases where action has been taken by the Charity Commission or by the Courts against trustees are almost unheard of… the Charity Commission and the courts appreciate that trustees are only volunteers and they do not seek to punish them except in the most serious cases of fault or neglect’.
The benefits of getting involved should far outweigh the limited risks.
What are the benefits?
Ability to give back in a meaningful way.
As a trustee you are part of a team that guides the actions and impact of a charity. Lending your outlook and experience to these decisions will allow you to make a long-term, positive impact on the causes that matter most to you.
Addressing a real need.
As many as 50% of charities have vacancies on their boards and there is a real and significant need for trustees throughout the sector. By taking a role on a board you are helping to give that charity further stability, a new perspective, and a stronger team to help guide their activities.
Being a charity trustee can add real value to a CV. It shows that you go above and beyond for causes you care about, displays a level of commitment, time-management skills, and varying experience. At any stage of your career, this will give you a competitive advantage.
Developing skills and experience.
Joining a board is a chance to develop skills in areas that you might not get the chance to work on in your day job. It gives you management experience, strategic thinking, problem-solving, analytical skills, and teamwork. It gives you the opportunity to apply your professional knowledge in a new context and gain a wider understanding of the sector.
No matter what stage of your career, there is value in networking. Taking a trustee role opens you up to a new group of professional contacts each with varying skills and experience of their own. Just as a good board is made up of a variety of people from diverse background – so too does it help to have a diverse range of professional contacts to tap into for mentorship or advice.
You do not need decades of experience
While the prevailing perception of a charity trustee may be an older professional with many years of experience under their belt, many charities are actively looking for younger, more diverse people to join their board.
Mariam Okhai, Trustee for the International Women’s Centre, Dundee, explains some of the benefits she has experienced as a young trustee:
‘I think being a board member gives you experience and challenges you as an individual. It allows you to see the organisation from a managerial perspective rather than purely operational. Due to being so young, it encouraged me to think outside of the box and be involved in work outside of my comfort zone.’
‘I think it has also allowed me to develop as a person both professionally and personally. By being in an environment with professionals from different sectors you can gain valuable insight and understanding. Being a board member has opened many doors for me professionally and I would recommend it to anyone looking for career or personal development’
Do not be put off by out-dated preconceptions, if you are interested in taking on a trustee position, reach out and make it happen!
How to get involved?
Alternatively, if you have a charity in mind, consider reaching out to them to express your interest and enquiring if they, or any of their network, have any availability on their board. Chances are, they may be thankful for your offer!
Written by Betty Henderson