Ian Joseph says charities need to reassess their board processes to recruit young talent.
When law student and young trustee Leon Ward spoke out at a parliamentary Inquiry into growing charitable giving last week and claimed that young trustees were being put off by a mix of financial costs, elitism and inward-looking recruitment his views struck a chord.
In the past three years, we have placed over 100 trustees however trustees under 25 years old have been notable by their absence and indeed appointments of trustees under 40 have been few and far between. Whilst we have recruited a few young trustees, including a 24-year-old onto the board of Penrose, a medium-sized charity that helps ex-offenders and people with mental illness, they are the exceptions rather than the rule. According to Charity Commission reports, 39 per cent of UK charities have difficulties recruiting trustees and many of them want to attract younger people, but are failing to do so. There is a clear disconnect at work.
Leon believes that one of the problems is that the sector is exclusive and that it is difficult to get the foot in the door as a first time trustee. He makes a great point that charities don't have graduate access schemes and that there is limited signposting of opportunities for young people. He also criticised the fees charged at charity conferences as being prohibitive for young people. This is also a good point and perhaps organisations in the sector could look at extending their bursary schemes so more young people can attend their conferences.
The issue of charities failing to promote or signpost opportunities was also raised in recent research we carried out amongst our trustee database. We questioned our database of trustees to see if there were barriers preventing people becoming trustees. The figures revealed that the number one barrier to trusteeship is the lack of knowledge about the opportunities (33 per cent ), a lack of knowledge about what trusteeship involves (25 per cent ) and the fact that charities are not good at promoting their opportunities (21 per cent ).
According to the research 45 per cent of trustees were recruited through a job advert, 45 per cent were recruited via an acquaintance or colleague with just 9 per cent were recruited through a recruitment company and only 1 per cent through a scheme at work. With almost half of new trustees recruited by friends of board members and existing networks, very few through work schemes and none through social media, it is little wonder that boards today lack diversity. Or why organisations find it hard to attract young people - they are not communicating their opportunities to the right people in the right way.
But there are other root causes, including the fact that many trustees today are retired and naturally have more time to volunteer their services. Another issue is that board meetings often taking place during the working week making it harder for professional people to attend. Clearly, if organisations want to change their boardroom make-up they need to change their processes to make them more accessible for professional people.
With last week's employment figures showing that youth unemployment is at a record high, the sector could step in and play an active role in providing work experience opportunities. If every charity was to take one NEET on to their boards, they would be helping them access vital skills and experience that might help them win paid employment whilst also benefiting from fresh perspectives. They would also have the opportunity to nurture young talent who may make a lasting contribution to their charity.
Attracting young people to charity boards will only change if the sector rethinks how it communicates its opportunities to young people and stops looking inwardly to recruit trustees. There are plenty of young people out there who would love the chance to sit on a charity board, they just don't know that the opportunities exist or where to find them. On Friday I will be presenting to a large group of recent graduates about trusteeship - let's all work together to get more young people involved. It is time for charities to get the word out and actively promote opportunities for young people. It won't happen otherwise.