Times are Changing: Why you should consider becoming a Trustee in 2019

In the UK, we should be proud of our extremely strong and vibrant charity sector. We have over 168,000 registered non-profits in England and Wales alone[1], each one governed by a board of trustees, existing to play a non-executive role to set and guide their charity’s strategy.

Despite this, the demographic of trustee boards is commonly criticised for being stale and homogenous. Currently, 92% of trustees consist of white males over 50 with an above average income and level of education[2]. Although this paints a less dynamic view of the sector, Sophie Livingstone, the Managing Director of Trustees Unlimited, has assured me that times are changing, and we should all think about what charitable boards need — and what we can offer.

Be an Expert by Experience

It comes as no surprise that trustees from different backgrounds, age and gender groups bring different perspectives and ways of thinking, which is exactly what boards need. Boards should be guided by voices from the communities their organisations serve, and should offer these voices a genuine seat at the table. Although diversity has become a buzz word and topic of conversation, Sophie emphasises, ‘diversity is not about ticking boxes to meet requirements; it’s about diversity of experiences that challenge thinking for better decision-making, and lead boards in a different way’. It’s worth thinking about what issues affect you personally, or what issues you encounter in your community, and how you can use this experience to advise organisations that address these problems to find creative and suitable solutions.

Be Picky

Websites such as Do-it.org (a national volunteering database) report that they have approximately 3,000 trustee roles listed at any given time so there are plenty of boards to choose from when searching for your ideal trustee position.[3] But there is more to consider than just looking at the cause you are passionate about. ‘It’s about doing thorough research on that organisation, being really realistic about time involved, and trying to speak to either the Chief Executive or the Chair in advance to make sure they have done their due diligence and really understand the strategy. It is also important to look into the board’s behaviours as well as skills to see whether they will enjoy the meetings, and whether it will be fulfilling or not’ says Sophie. ‘My advice would be to look beyond the mission…to make sure your goals and skills are well aligned with that organisation’. Taking the time to research boards properly will make your trusteeship a more enjoyable and fulfilling experience — this will infuse the board with positivity and energy, which will hopefully be reflected in the organisation’s strategy.

Don’t Undervalue Your Skills

Many people don’t consider becoming a trustee, as they underestimate how many skills and qualities they have and use in their everyday working life. ‘The issue is that many trustees leave their business hat at home and forget these vital skills when they get around the board table. Trustees offer practical business skills, experience and rigor which charities are desperately in need of’ says Sophie. In turn, acting as a trustee can help you gain a clearer idea of your own professional strengths and weaknesses whilst simultaneously learning new skills. ‘There is such a wide variety of charities; trustees could be responsible for overseeing multi-million-pound operations at large charities, or be much more hands with a smaller organisation’. Utilising your skills can add huge value to both you and the organisation you support by bringing your existing abilities to the frontline whilst challenging and pushing the boundaries of your expertise.

In summary, if you haven’t thought about becoming a trustee before — you should do now! We’ve all got something valuable to contribute, and the first step is to recognise this. Let’s make 2019 the year where we all strengthen and diversify our charitable sector.

[1] UK Charity Commision for England and Wales, 2018. ‘Recent Charity Register Statistics’.

[2] Cass Business School, 2017. ‘Taken on Trust: The awareness and effectiveness of charity trustees in England and Wales’.

[3] Charities Aid Foundation, 2015. ‘Young Trustees Guide: Developing the next generation of charity leaders’.