Why don’t we have more young people on charity trustee boards?

In October 2017, we advertised for two new trustees under 25 years of age. We were looking to both expand and diversify our Board, whilst ensuring that our own practice mirrored our mission and values.   We were thrilled at the high quality of candidates we had to choose from, all bringing lived experience of the issues our funding supports, alongside energy and intelligence.

In January 2018 Tasneem Alom and Linda Epstein joined our Board in time for our beginning of year extended strategy meeting.  Since then, they have contributed their opinions and insights alongside our longer standing and older Trustees on the whole range of issues we discuss including grants, social investments, property and policy influence.  They are valued as equal members of the Board and we are grateful to have them.

In the process of recruitment; having met many brilliant leaders who were themselves young trustees; in looking at the training and support available for trustees generally and through engaging with Tasneem and Linda as full Board members, it has repeatedly struck me as an indictment of the social sector that a mere 0.8% of trustees are under 25, with the average age over 60.   Surely there is a huge untapped potential here and a serious opportunity to build and invest in quality strategic leadership of the sector over the next decades- the next generation of Chairs for example?

The irony is that at the same time, there is a huge commitment to youth ‘social action’ across the UK, a need for quality opportunities to meet this demand, and a pool of young people willing and able to get involved – research conducted in 2014 demonstrates that 85% of people under 35 would consider becoming trustees.

There are other compelling reasons to recruit young trustees.  Not to put too fine a point on it, the sector has a major problem with a lack of diversity.  ‘Taken on Trust’ research published by the Charity Commission highlighted that 92% of trustees are white, with this figure rising to 99% in the Trust and Foundation world! Changing demographics means that recruiting younger trustees is one practical way that we can all start to redress this problem.

Finally, the Trustee role writ large suffers from a lack of dynamism – it can often be frustrating and mired in compliance, rather than as Bob Thust from Practical Governance says ‘exciting, liberating, progressive’. Perhaps by giving the next generation of social entrepreneurs, business men and women, researchers and activists the chance to join Boards, solutions can be found and the model can be ‘refreshed’ at a time when it is badly needed.

The Blagrave Trust is delighted to be working with the Social Change Agency on a new initiative to grow the numbers of young trustees in England and Wales. Our aim is to move the dial from 0.8% to 5% over the next 5 years, but maybe we can go further?  The project aims to take a systemic approach with young people driving change and we are thrilled that the Charity Commission and other critical stakeholders are putting their support behind this initiative.

As part of the Young Trustees project, we are holding a series of workshop “The next generation of charity governance”  in London on the 12th of November, Leeds on the 13th of November, and Cardiff on the 20th of November, with young people, charities, and other organisations to build a vision about what is possible in terms of building a movement of young trustees as well as dig deeper into understanding the challenges and opportunities of increasing the quantity and quality of young trustees on boards. Sign up here

We invite you to join a new movement and share this work amongst your networks.  We are just getting going. For more information please contact Karen@thesocialchangeagency.org

Jo Wells, Director


15th October 2018