Interview with Alex Swallow of Young Charity Trustees for Trustees’ Week

Here at Cause4, we pride ourselves on staying up-to-date on novel developments in all parts of the Third Sector. In honour of Trustees’ Week, and in light of the lack of diversity on charitable trustee boards, we decided to look into current initiatives designed to get new people into charity trusteeships.

One of the most interesting organisations we found was Young Charity Trustees. Set up just over two years ago by Alex Swallow, himself a ‘young trustee,’ the organisation exists to encourage more young people to be Trustees and to support those who have already taken on Trusteeship. Young people are significantly underrepresented on charitable boards, and according to Charity Commission data, while 18-24 year olds represent 12% of the total adult population they make up just 0.5% of trustees. Thus, Young Charity Trustees undeniably seeks to address a real issue with regards to diversity in an important part of the Third Sector.

To find out more about his personal motivation for setting up the organisation and the issues around encouraging young people to become trustees, Cause4 interviewed Alex Swallow:

1) What is the biggest challenge for trustees at the moment?

I think the biggest challenge is feeling that you are making the right choices for the charity that you support in a difficult economic environment and a changing world. Not all Boards have the right support, training or resources to feel that they are confident in making decisions- and some young people have told me that they are wary about becoming Trustees because they are not sure that they will get things right for causes that they care deeply about.

2) Why did you decide to become a trustee?

I volunteered at the charity first (I saw an ad in the Guardian to join a subcommittee). By the time I was asked to be a Trustee of Centre 404 I could see that it was my sort of organisation and that all the people involved, from staff to volunteers practised what they preached. I’ve loved every minute of the role.

3) What can young people bring to charity trustee boards?

I don’t really like seeing young people as being a special group because a ‘them and us’ attitude doesn’t work. Nor do I think that young people on Boards should have to represent all young people: everyone is different. It is just my belief that in society in general power and decision-making should be dispersed as widely as possible and that everyone has something to offer. As well as age, Boards should consider gender, disability, sexuality, background, ethnicity etc. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ mix but everyone should feel welcome to join and to contribute.

Here is a speech where Alex explains a bit more about Board Diversity:

4) Why are there so few young people on charity trustee boards?

I think that there is a lack of confidence on both sides. Young people with amazing skills and time to give don’t think that charities would be interested in having them involved. Charities are unsure how to reach out to young people and think that their particular cause might not be appealing to them. I, and others in this field act as matchmakers! I also think that the problem is just that young people typically don’t even know that they can be Trustees. Until I was asked, I didn’t and because I enjoyed it so much I decided to set up Young Charity Trustees because I thought others might get something from it too.

5) What is the best way to get young people interested in becoming trustees?

I think that everyone who believes that Board diversity is important, or who generally enjoys sitting on a Board themselves, should be evangelical about telling others. Getting more young people involved is going to take time because the most convincing thing will be when someone in their peer or friendship group is sitting on a Board and they can think ‘Well, if they are involved, maybe I can be too’.

6) What’s the best way for interested young people to go about becoming trustees?

This is a difficult question to answer. I have a few resources below which might help, but I think that young people need to realise that unfortunately a lot of charities don’t openly advertise Board positions. So my advice would be that young people approach charities they are interested in and try to meet a current Trustee or staff member (if the charity has staff, as a lot of small charities don’t). If they find that no Board positions are currently available they will at least have their name in the frame when one comes up and the charity will probably be flattered and indeed amazed to be asked.

In addition to answering our questions, Alex also generously provided us with the following information for our readers who want to find out more about trusteeship:

This presentation gives tips for those who are thinking about and this one has information for charities who would like their Boards to be more diverse.

Finally, for those who want to find out more, Alex often blogs about Trustee issues.


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