Dan Wood had his first taste of being a trustee at the age of 19 when he was with the Scouts. The organisation had changed its governance structure in order to increase the involvement of young people, and there were three places on the management committee reserved for people aged 18-25.
"The changes were designed to challenge a culture where most of the trustees were much older," Dan explains. "In an organisation like the Scouts there is a certain amount of baggage and tradition and some people were reluctant to bring younger people in. But we proved ourselves."
Dan was elected to two successive three-year terms. "There was a logic to me wanting to be a trustee," he says. "The Scouts is all about citizenship, leadership and taking responsibility in your community. Becoming a trustee of the organisation itself was a natural extension of that."
For someone still involved in full-time education it was also a fantastic opportunity. "It was very exciting," Dan says. "Having a role in making long-term decisions about such a large organisation taught me a huge amount and gave me skills that were directly transferable to paid work. The networking and contacts were also really useful."
The organisation as a whole is convinced of the need to have young people on the board. "We are an organisation for young people," says a Scouts spokesperson. "To have young people as part of the decision-making is absolutely vital."
Dan went on to be Chair of the British Youth Council and believes that more organisations should look to involve young people in their governance. "Young people are being asked to take more and more responsibility in every area of their lives," he argues. "We are probably better educated than any previous generation, and we have a huge amount to offer as trustees."
It can be difficult to balance the time commitment of being a trustee with the other calls on your time, Dan concedes, but that is a challenge for most trustees whatever their age. Well-run organisations will support their trustees to help them fulfil their role effectively.
Get On Board
To help address the relative lack of younger people and people from black and ethnic minorities on trustee boars, volunteering charity Timebank has joined forces with the Charity Commission to start a promotional campaign, Get On Board.
"We want to dispel the myths about being a trustee," explains Moira Swinbank, Timebank's Chief Executive. "You don't need to be asked and you don't need to be a powerful mover and shaker."
Often it's simply about finding a cause you care about and thinking about what you might have to offer. You don't have to be an expert but your skills, experience and knowledge could make you a useful part of a trustee team.
One of the young people supporting Get On Board is Natalie Monunga. At the age of 26 she became a trustee of YMCA Waltham Forest. She was approached by them after she developed a youth forum with a group of young people in Waltham Forest.
"The board was mainly composed of older men," Natalie says, "but the organisation works with young people, so it is good for them to have someone representing young people. It's also good for me to feel that my skills are being well used. When I started I wasn't quite sure what was expected of me, but the YMCA organised training for me and explained what the responsibilities were and what I would be expected to do. The other trustees have also been really helpful and taken time to explain things to me."
People like Natalie and Dan have shown that youth is no bar to being an effective trustee. As Dan says, "The most effective boards are the most balanced ones and that should include the involvement of young people."