“Young Trustees make up 2% of UK Charity Trustees, despite research that 85% of people aged under 35 would consider becoming a trustee”- Charities Aid Foundation
It was September the 2nd, the day after my job contract finished, the day after I had moved out of my home in Cardiff. I travelled to London, waking up at 4AM (I had fallen asleep next to my rucksack a few hours before) in order to make it to the British Youth Council Annual Council Meeting in time, to find out if I was to be voted in to join their board of trustees. It was one of the most stressful periods of my life. And with my successful election, it launched one of the most rewarding.
I’m Joe, I’ve just graduated from Cardiff University, and I’ve been involved in the charity sector here in Wales for the duration of my degree. I have just become a trustee of the British Youth Council, a nationwide organisation who give a voice to young people, and works toward a world where young people are respected, and able to really influence and inform decisions that affect their lives. We’ve just finished Make Your Mark 2017, a vote of over 950,000 young people, with a House of Commons sitting for our Youth Parliament, for young representatives from across the UK. I know Cardiff’s own MYP got the chance to speak, which I was very pleased to see. I am incredibly passionate about our cause, and I think we fill a niche and support a demographic that deserves excellent support.
I find being a trustee immensely challenging, and rewarding.
For the bulk of this blog, I’ll spell out the three biggest challenges unique to being a young trustee (which I haven’t experienced at BYC, just to be clear):
Number 1: “You’re 18-25, what do you know?”
It should be no surprise to know that the average age of a trustee is 57. Many organisations who represent and support young people won’t have a young person within several miles of the board room, where decisions are made that matter, decisions which really affect the lives of those young people. As a young person who has represented Wales at an international level, there are three main bodies of response when a young person talks in a room of older people. Either heads lean forward and pay attention, people ignore you, or people say “Ooh isn’t it nice that we’ve got the young person to do something”. I’ve put those in order of my preference to receive, because there is nothing as demeaning as tokenism. I’ll order in big foam hands for my next speech, for the best patronising hair ruffles. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a huge body of people who care, and who listen, and who challenge. And I love that, and it leads into my next point.
Number 2 – “I don’t agree with you, and here’s why”.
This is subjective, but there is nothing I enjoy more than being disagreed with. (“Yes there is, Joe” etc) I get bored as a young person of being treated like ‘a really really great young person’, because you don’t get listened to when you’re a ‘really really great young person’. No-one challenges your opinion. It is by getting young people into positions where they can vocalise the issues of other young people fairly, without special treatment, in which we learn firstly our importance, and secondly we learn to find our place. As someone once told me when discussing charity roles, we learn "when to shut up". And that is also crucial. Making young people not 'special voices who are beyond reproach'.
I think that might be why sometimes there is less appetite from charities for appointing a young person to their board, this idea of young people + soapbox = obnoxiousness. And I am sure that is a true formula. But if the box is removed from day one, and young people are on equal footing, there is no temptation towards the end result.
Number 3 – The deep end
As a young person in a governance position, I am hugely lucky in that I have friends who are experts in their respective fields who I can quiz. A close friend works for Barclays, she broke down a balance sheet for me, taught me how to read it. A kind soul at WCVA talked through charity finances, another kind soul at WCVA ran through data protection and GDPR implementation tips with me. I am also lucky that on the board of the British Youth Council is an amazing network of skills and abilities which I can tap into, and learn from. I didn’t come from a youth politics or a finance background, I come from a youth work/social action/Comms background. They are my specialties. But I can lean on those in the board who have other abilities to myself. And that is really important when you work with young people in governance like this. In Leon Ward’s words, “it’s about nurturing and harnessing the talent of future givers, philanthropists, thought leaders, chief executives and charity staff”.
We as young people are the future of all sectors, the charity sector isn’t exempt from that. If you as an organisation are looking to get young people involved where it matters, able to get their hands dirty, to learn, and to eventually take the reins one day, I loudly encourage you to do so. If you are an organisation that works with young people, I encourage you doubly so. There are young people that really want to get involved in charity governance, a whole lot of us.
Give us a chance.