How and Why to Bring Young Trustees on Board

At the Roundhouse, we’ve had young trustees on our board since 2005. Back then, there were very few other organisations who were doing the same. Fast forward nearly 20 years and the picture looks very different.

We’ve really seen this work accelerate over the last five years since we launched our youth governance guide, Guided by Young Voices, which includes practical tips to get started. Alongside the other organisations in the guide and the Young Trustees Movement, we’ve all helped to make progress.

So what are the benefits of bringing young trustees on board? And how can you work with them, and your organisation, to make it a success? Here are some of the things we’ve learned.

The benefits of recruiting young trustees

By including young trustees, you can inspire the young people you work with to aim for positions of power. To know that you value their opinion―and they can lead early on in their careers―can do incredible things for their confidence.

All trustees bring a wealth of skills and experience from their personal and professional lives. Young trustees can highlight issues and challenges faced by themselves and their peers in an authentic way. They ensure diversity of thought and can challenge you on your decision making, which also helps identify potential risks.

Young trustees ensure that as an organisation you’re relevant to a wide range of audiences of today, as well as highlighting trends and innovation which will support your sustainability in the future. Fresh ideas, different mindsets and varied approaches ultimately make an organisation more successful and resilient.

How to make it work

We’ve had hundreds of conversations about this work and about the challenges each organisation is up against. Here are some of the most common issues they had in onboarding young trustees and ways to overcome them.

Convincing your board

This is a huge challenge for some organisations. Many people tell us they know the importance of diversity, but some boards are stuck in their ways. Diversity has to be owned by everyone, not just championed by one or two people. For this, there are two arguments―benefits to the business and the opportunity for development for young people.

Having an away day to openly discuss challenges and concerns but also opportunities is a great way to bring everyone along on the journey.

Convincing young people to take on the role

Being a trustee can seem so out of reach to young people. We need to educate them about what being a trustee entails and that years of business experience isn’t the only skill required. Of course, there’s a big responsibility on the shoulders of a young person if they take this on. We shouldn’t shy away from stressing this―but it also shouldn’t be a barrier.

There are simple steps you can take to find suitable young people. We have the Roundhouse Youth Advisory Board (RYAB). This is a channel between the young creatives we work with and the Board of Trustees, and acts as a feeder to the applications. Some organisations won’t have this, but we advise you to start with your own community. Perhaps your service users or young people online who have an interest in your charity or mission.

The application process also needs to be accessible, so that it’s not a barrier. Be open to questions from young people about the role. Or hold an evening where they can meet other trustees and learn more about what the position entails.

Make sure this is reflected in the interview process too. Ask relevant questions and make sure it’s still rigorous, the role isn’t tokenistic and there’s a high level of responsibility that comes with being a young trustee. Asking about achievements and handling difficult situations can be good questions to focus on.

Over the last few years we’ve thought more about working with young trustees holistically. Trusteeship is part of a structured professional development opportunity, where we also identify any training they’d find useful. Presentation training is one example. This means we can upskill young trustees in areas that are beneficial to them now and in the future.

The board meetings

One question we’ve had many times is ‘How do we ensure young people are engaged in board meetings?’ You might want to think about:

  • where the young people physically sit around the table
  • whether they’re paired with another trustee
  • how to set expectations around reading board papers ahead of meetings and asking questions.

Most importantly, make sure young trustees have a dedicated slot to talk about the issues they’d like to bring to the table. They may not have something every meeting, but allowing for that time and space is vital.

The road ahead

Research from earlier this year found that charity boards still lag behind FTSE 100 companies when it comes to board diversity. How do facts like this impact young people from diverse backgrounds looking to advance in our sector? If we don’t have enough diversity leading by example, how will the next generation find the motivation to take charge?

Although we might have seen a growth in the number of organisations taking on young trustees, it’s important we continue to look at overall board diversity, to ensure they better reflect society.

Need more advice?

Whether you’re starting a youth board or bringing on young trustees, Guided by Young Voices is a useful practical tool. So far, it’s helped hundreds of organisations on their journey involving young people in their governance structures. It’s been fantastic to see so many young people taking on new, positive opportunities within charities, and having their voices heard.

We’re always happy to offer support to individuals and organisations about how we embed the youth voice. Get in touch with us at [email protected]

Got a trustee position to fill? Post a vacancy for free today.

This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated to ensure relevance and to reflect the current recruiter experience.

Tags: charity sector, diversity, recruitment

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About the author

Tina Ramdeen

Tina Ramdeen is Associate Director of Young People at the Roundhouse, a live performance space and centre for young creatives.