With charities finding that demand for their services has expanded while their budgets have shrunk, conditions have rarely been stormier for the third sector, and many voluntary organisations would appreciate an extra co-pilot
by Sophie McBain
With charities finding that demand for their services has expanded while their budgets have shrunk, conditions have rarely been stormier for the third sector, and many voluntary organisations would appreciate an extra co-pilot. According to New Philanthropy Capital, almost half of UK charities have at least one trustee vacancy on their board, and so it has compiled a new guide advertising ‘The Benefits of Trusteeship’.
If you thought that a few grey hairs were usually helpful, if not a pre-requisite, for the potential trustee, you were only half right. The average age for a charity trustee is 57, and over two-thirds are 50 and over, but many organisations would be happy to have some fresh faces at the boardroom table too.
Only 0.5 per cent of trustees are aged 18-24, but a young person’s perspective can be helpful for charities — and not only for solving IT problems. To highlight its point, the NPC profiles two photogenic trustees in their late twenties: one is a solicitor at Clifford Chance, the other a project manager for UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment.
It is a key message of the report that young people can get involved. One trustee, Emilie Goodall, says: ‘A lot of young people don’t even realise that they can be trustees. The assumption is that “no-one is going to want me because I’m too young,” and it can be daunting to walk into that environment. But you can get so much from it.’ Another trustee, Alan Mak, mentions that it can have both personal and professional benefits by expanding your skills and making you more rounded.
Given that there are 171,000 charities in the UK – plus social enterprises, co-operatives and other bodies – there is bound to be a cause relevant to everyone.
The benefits of trusteeship extend to the trustee themselves, their employees and the charities they lead, the report stresses. Trusteeship is personally rewarding, it allows employees to acquire new professional skills and a diverse board of trustees can help charities expand and develop despite third sector cuts.
The report covers these reasons for becoming a trustee but also the responsibilities of a trustee, which include making sure the charity ‘complies with regulation’ and ‘acts with integrity’, as well as setting strategy and attending board meetings. It adds that the size of charity has a great impact on a trustee’s role: small charities need more hands-on work.
Christopher Jonas, the Chairman of Henderson Income Trust, who has over 40 years’ experience of voluntary work, makes an important observation. A donor who gives £50,000 for a building might get his or her name on its wall, but a donor who gives the equivalent of £100,000 in time and expertise probably will not.
The UK has a long way to go in promoting philanthropy, but acknowledging the important contribution of trustees – and other voluntary third sector workers – would be an important step in the right direction.