“A trustee? Isn’t that for retirement? You can’t be a trustee now!”
A role as a trustee may well be a great activity for retirement but it isn’t just for retirees. In fact, it is really important that we address some real imbalance on the boards of charities across the UK.
Currently, more than two-thirds of trustees in the UK are aged over 50. In fact, the diversity gets worse, only 36% of trustees are women.
So what are we missing? Does it matter that the picture of an average trustee being 57 years old, male and white is so easy to paint?
Do older trustees simply guarantee a thorough spectrum of life experience that younger trustees can’t offer? Can young trustees really take responsibility within a charity’s management?
Thing is, that’s exactly what the charity sector is so desperate for. It needs fresh eyes and new ideas, a lot of which can be found in trustees that perhaps don’t fit that ‘average’ mold. It needs new trustees to step up and take real responsibility in governing, guiding and encouraging charities today.
As a child I was a member of Girl Guiding, a great organisation that depends on volunteers of all ages. Our family were involved in a number of different volunteering roles from church to after school clubs. Volunteering is part of our community DNA throughout the UK. Trustee roles are part of that too. They’re an essential part of it. Without trustees, charities simply can’t operate.
A year ago I chose to respond to an advert for a trustee to sit on the board of a charitable trust that is very close to my heart. I am passionate about its work. It is a small but such a mightily important fund. The Lavinia Norfolk Centre (LNC) Charitable Trust supports 11-18 year olds who have a disability to access mainstream education at The Angmering School in West Sussex. For over twenty five years it has ensured that those students who want to learn alongside their peers, can do. It has fitted hydrotherapy pool hoists, maintained the school’s lift, paid for adaptable sports equipment, funded the costs of carers and assistants to attend school trips, bought specialist learning aids for the school’s visually-impaired students and provided physiotherapy resources as well as so much more.
The LNC does this because the school recognises the innate benefit to the entire school community in encouraging and facilitating accessible education. Many of the young people who have benefited from the trust would have had no other option but to go to a school specifically for children with disabilities if the LNC didn’t exist. They would have lost out on the diversity of a large comprehensive school campus and they may not have had access to the same educational opportunities. The Angmering School tirelessly works to broaden access and support young people where they are.
Several of my dearest friends were supported by the LNC whilst we were at school. Two of whom have particularly complex disabilities which mean they need specialist, qualified support throughout the school day. The LNC trust’s work and funding meant that they could be supported fully and appropriately, the school campus was accessible to them and we could learn side-by-side in the classroom together. The LNC is there because the educational authorities don’t provide enough funding – gaps like this are being increasingly plugged by the charity sector and with further cuts in the foreseeable future, the charity sector’s support to routine services such as schools is only going to be drawn on more heavily.
Since I left the school, my younger sister Alice has been a student there and was supported by the LNC. For a child with Down’s Syndrome to be able to access mainstream secondary education in this way is remarkable. Alice is remarkable but I don’t mean her in this instance, she takes these things in her stride. However, the teachers, the support staff, the headship – they are remarkable. They never see challenges, they see opportunities.
The LNC trust’s support to the school and its student community has meant that generations of young people have been educated together without question or barriers.
When the opportunity came up to step onto the trustee board I felt compelled to apply in order to give something back. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have decades of life experience under my belt. I am at the early stages of my career and definitely not just entering retirement but I have passion, I am quick to learn and I want to play a part in the success of the charity.
As it happens I do also work in the charity sector and have done since I left university six years ago. I am an Events and Community Fundraising Manager for a national charity and love my job. My professional experiences since I left University have undoubtedly benefitted me when I act as a Trustee – I do have a working, current knowledge of the charity sector and particularly of legislation surrounding Fundraising and Marketing. However what I love being part of is outside of my ‘area of expertise’, it’s deciding how we support the students, assessing the impact of the fund and planning to ensure that at least another 25 years of students can be supported.
Our charity sector in the UK is crying out for more working-age trustees and it is also imperative that more women to take up the mantle too. Being young doesn’t mean that you can’t be knowledgeable or skilled in a particular area. In fact, it means you’re likely to be at the cutting edge of legislation and innovation in your chosen career. Some of the recent scandal in the charity sector could well have been avoided by the trustees being less passive and more proactive in taking an interest in the work of the organisation they are supposed to protect.
Of course, being a trustee is great experience and it is broadening my skill set but I also get to advise in the areas that I do have expertise in as well as gaining practical experience of charity governance at board level. I believe a trustee, any trustee, has to be committed and passionate about the work that the organisation they support does. If you don’t have passion, you’ll struggle to connect in a way that will truly benefit both parties.
My own experience as a charity employee and also as a volunteer has demonstrated to me how positive a good trustee can be within an organisation and how they can support employees to feel valued. If I can be that for a trust that has done so much for so many people, then I think that my ‘spare’ time is being used for the better.
If we are going to see a better representation of society on trustee boards, we need younger people to put themselves forward and we need charities to see the huge benefit to them of having working-age trustees who are current, passionate and innovative.
I hope that you will have the opportunity, or will seek one out, to be a trustee for a charity. To share your passions, skills and time – they’d be so lucky.
The Sussex Girl