Expert view: Generation game in the boardroom

Having a range of ages on your board will give you a broader perspective on your cause.

Like so many things in life, being a trustee is a delicate balancing act. Should your charity focus on money or mission? Too strong a focus on one can often put the other at risk. So how do you ensure your board treads the right line?

One way is to have trustees from different generations on your board. It may be a challenge, but having trustees from different ends of the generational spectrum will help you ensure that your message and purpose work from one age group to the next.

Generations, the latest book by marketing expert Peter Brinckerhoff, encourages voluntary groups to think proactively about generational differences and how they can affect their organisations. Brinckerhoff contends that a lackadaisical approach to engaging different generations could be dangerous for your organisation. Getting a handle on the generational make-up of your beneficiaries and supporters is crucial to your long-term success.

In doing this, it's important to start looking at the trends in your service area. Try to identify where significant impacts have been made, so you can try to stay ahead of the game. Having a range of ages on your board will help you understand the issues more comprehensively.

But what about developing younger board members? I suggest a mentoring initiative. It would enable more experienced trustees to pass on knowledge, perspectives, understanding and wisdom to younger board members. Doors between the age groups can be opened through informal discussions, lunches, coffees and team-building sessions. This type of engagement also throws up the possibility of older mentors effectively being mentored by their younger mentees as they learn from their ideas.

A survey by the Governance Hub found that young chairs feel under particular pressure. They can feel that people are expecting them to come up with all the answers and find it a battle to get their points of view across. Having a more experienced person to discuss these issues with could be a valuable form of support.

With more young people playing out their lives online, technology can also be used to help shape your organisation for the future, no matter what groups you appeal to. So consider using websites popular with younger people to get your message out when recruiting new board members.

- Tesse Akpeki is a governance consultant for OnBoard, a division of Bates, Wells & Braithwaite charity solicitors.

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