Expert view: Young people can be good trustees

Enthusiasm and openness more than make up for their immaturity and lack of experience.

Many charities, especially those supporting children and young people, feel that it would be a good idea to appoint young trustees to their boards. This is a sensible goal, in that young trustees are likely to be more in tune with the people whom the organisations aim to support. They would also certainly be closer to the thought processes of charities' younger clients. However, things need to be considered carefully before you follow this route.

On a purely practical basis, these appointments can lead to restrictions in matters such as the timing of trustee meetings. Most young people work or attend school or college and are therefore probably unable to attend meetings during the daytime except on rare occasions. That is unless they are prepared to use their holiday entitlement to meet such commitments.

Another issue to consider is that the very fact of their youth can mean young people are less well-informed about the overall background of charities' work and may be less able to take a mature, detached and balanced approach to decisions.

On the positive side, though, it is always interesting to note how the interaction of boards tends to change when younger members are appointed. Their ability to question processes and decisions that hitherto might have been taken for granted can lead to methods and outcomes being reappraised.

Most young people who are interested in becoming trustees will have very particular reasons for doing so (in contrast with older people, who are probably taking on such roles because they are interested in serving on committees or boards). They also tend to be more passionate about charitable causes. Sometimes, this can lead to hasty judgements. If it is possible to harness their enthusiasm and commitment, however, they can provide a valuable and contrasting element in the work of the board.

One problem that can arise is that more senior trustees may assume that their youth precludes them from being able to play a full and important role. Chairs of boards should handle these situations with sensitivity to both sides. But, again, if young people are fully involved with the work of the board, their youth and openness can provide food for thought for fellow trustees.

My own view - I have chaired and sat on boards that have included young trustees - is that any extra effort involved in inducting younger members and ensuring that their co-trustees accept them as full members of the board is more than worthwhile. Judith Rich is the chair of Charity Appointments and the Diabetes Foundation, and a trustee of Relate and Reach.

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