If you were asked to name the top three ways of supporting charities, what would spring to mind? A few years ago, my answer would probably have been: 1) giving money; 2) volunteering; and 3) donating in-kind – say, by giving clothes to a charity shop.
My ideas of volunteering would have been things like mentoring or providing reading assistance in a school, not volunteering on a charity’s board. I assumed that was something you wait to be asked to do, and that no-one would be interested in asking me until I had more experience under my belt and more grey hairs on my head.
I was not alone in this perception. A 2006 survey showed that only 5 per cent of people were aware of trusteeship as a way to support a charity, and there is nothing to suggest the situation has changed dramatically since then. Yet volunteering as a trustee is one of the most valuable ways people can support charities, as NPC’s new report, The benefits of trusteeship, highlights. After all, as Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, puts it, ‘The trustees are the owners of the charity; they pass the baton on from generation to generation’.
Good trustees are a highly-prized commodity, and charities need more of them. Research suggests that almost half of charities have at least one vacancy on their board. But often trusteeship is seen as an activity for the middle class and middle-aged. The average age of trustees in England and Wales is 57, and only half a per cent of trustees are aged between 18 and 24. The current environment is also posing new challenges for charities. Many are experiencing cuts in funding, and a 2011 survey showed that more than half have seen an increase in demand for their services. In these difficult times, it is more important than ever that charities have talented and committed trustees who can provide much-needed support and guidance.
But it is not just about need. Being a trustee can offer fantastic opportunities to develop new interests, meet new people, and build skills and experience. Corporates and professional bodies are increasingly encouraging their employees and members to become trustees, not just as part of their CSR programmes, but because they recognise the benefits for all concerned. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), for example, supports its members to volunteer. ICAEW’s Anne Davis told us: ‘Volunteering widens your field of experience and expertise, and helps you develop skills, for example, in leadership, team-building and campaigning’. And employees bring the benefits back to their jobs – for our report we spoke to BT, who told us what the company gains from supporting employees to volunteer as trustees.
The experience of Alan Mak, a 28-year-old solicitor at global law firm Clifford Chance, bears this out. Alan finds time to be a governor at an east London primary school, and is a trustee of Magic Breakfast, a charity providing breakfast to children in deprived areas before school. He believes that ‘individuals have an obligation to contribute to society in general, and to local communities in particular’. Being a trustee has offered him a great opportunity to get board level experience at an early age: ‘I get a chance to use and enhance my decision-making, project management and strategic thinking skills. Plus it makes me a more rounded employee, as I get to work with a greater diversity of people and in a different, more collegiate decision-making environment.’
Trusteeship is a triple win: it is a valuable form of volunteering that allows you to support and guide a charity; it is personally rewarding and career-enhancing; and employers who help staff become trustees will benefit from more skilled and well-rounded employees. If you still need convincing, read the personal stories in our report. And if you’re feeling inspired, the final chapter provides guidance on how to find your perfect trustee role.
Clare Yeowart is a Senior Consultant at NPC, and co-author of The benefits of trusteeship, where you can read more about the individuals mentioned in this article.