I have held the position of British Youth Council Trustee for just over a year now; complete with fraught election, a seemingly insurmountable learning curve, and discovering how to accept the help of those far more experienced to overcome the curve. There have been incredibly difficult bits. And there have been incredibly rewarding bits. The British Youth Council prides itself on having a wholly ‘young person’ board. We are all between the ages of 16 and 25, and together we decide the direction of the charity, how we can best serve young people and other important responsibilities any charity board would undertake.
Throughout one year and two months of candidacy, I’ve gone through eight months of post-university unemployment, two jobs, and one year and two months of self-development. I believe firmly that being a trustee for the British Youth Council has aided and abetted that development, and given me a firm grounding of experience to take into my future. If you’re a young person reading this, be a trustee. It will stretch and pull and test you, and you will learn more than you give.
In my first position as a trustee I have learned a great deal about what a trustee is not. I have been too operational in my role. I have (shock horror, hold your ears) not read enough in preparation for a board meeting, and not known what I was talking about. I have not known enough about my charity’s history, and had to implement a regular two hour slot in my fortnight to read around the sector, and around the charity.
I have also learned how amazing and empowering young trustees can be when done well (and the British Youth Council does young trustees well). I have been flying the flag for more charities to engage with young people at that strategic level. I have also tempered my more firebrand youth belief that maybe charities who do not have youth representation at strategic level do not, not because they are scared of what they might hear, but because they are unsure of how best to engage them. To continue, I hope that by the end of this blog, you have a better understanding of “Why Young Trustees”, and why engaging young people is such an important step for charities to be taking.
Now it’s easier to identify yourself by what you’re not, I believe, so I will take that approach now:
What am I not?
I am not a trustee to ‘give back’, to the charity sector or to the youth sub-sector. I am strongly of the opinion that the day I truly believe that, is the day I should resign as a trustee, as it implies I have ceased to learn from my experiences. And what use is a trustee who is not developing their skills?
I am not a trustee to represent ‘all young people’. I am not a voice of my generation. I maybe have a slightly better understanding of them than a 50 year old, but I don’t know specifically how young black Muslims are affected by Brexit, for example. If you want to know that, talk to them. Don’t ask me “what do young people think?”. That’s not engaging young people, that’s patronising them.
I am not a trustee to ‘lead the charity to greatness’. The charity I belong to is already great. It has an unbelievably capable staff team who lead it to greatness each and every single day, in fulfilling its vision and strategic objectives – or in less management speak, in “helping young people feel empowered”. We are incredibly lucky to have the staff we have. I am a trustee to guide and question, to check and to balance. To help in overseeing. To be the charity’s biggest cheerleader.
That’s a young trustee’s biggest selling point, and for me, their biggest potential pothole to being a good trustee.
Young people are uniquely placed.
They can be raw, passionate, enthusiastic, with plenty of time on their hands. They’re different, they attract attention, they often have a great understanding of the hot button topics.
That sounds all good stuff, right?
The problem for me stems in when a young trustee is put into that box. They are the passionate one, they are the one who knows about that Twitter thing, they can be trotted out in front of our stakeholders for a reliably enthusiastic speech about how great the charity is. Young people want to be a trustee for many reasons. One big reason I would identify, is to learn. If they are pulled into an environment where they are the diversity contingent, they can be stymied by that tag. Don’t make your young trustees your token diversity, and don’t treat them as such.
Would I recommend being a trustee to young people? Absolutely I would. If you are willing to put in the work, it’s a chance to learn, it’s a chance to embed yourself deep within a charity’s framework, it’s a chance to help toward a cause you care about, and get out of your comfort zone a little.
Would I recommend charities to seek a young person as a trustee? Absolutely I would. If you’re willing to put in the work, it’s a chance to learn, it’s a chance to teach, it’s a chance to broaden your representation, and get out of your comfort zone a little.
It is obvious dissonance to have an organisation for young people without young people represented on their board.
Young people are able if you are willing.
If you want to talk about any of what I’ve discussed, you can DM me on Twitter at @Joey_St0cks