Anna Rose Barker: Get young people on the board

In the first of a series of articles timed to coincide with Trustees Week, the chair of the British Youth Council discusses the need to have young people's perspectives on charity boards

Anna Rose Barker
Anna Rose Barker

I was first elected as a trustee of the British Youth Council at 24, jumping right into the role of vice chair. A year later I was elected as chair of the board. Another year on brings us up to date and we have recruited a new chief executive, completed a thorough governance review and kick-started our strategic planning process for our new direction. On top of it all, I  won Charity Chair of the Year at the Third Sector Awards – what a journey it has been!

Being a trustee has been an overwhelmingly incredible experience, with a unique chance to govern and direct an organisation to make it better and stronger for the future. Because I'm a young trustee, it has provided even more distinctive challenges and opportunities. I have developed a tremendous number of skills and have been exposed to numerous experiences that have propelled my career and my knowledge of governance and leadership. 

Trusteeship brings the opportunity to make a difference to a cause you care about, gain experience of leadership and decision-making and rebalance generational inequality.

Although the benefits of trusteeship for young people are great, unfortunately only 5 per cent of charity trustees in the UK are under 35. Is this because young people aren't looking for these roles, or because charities are not providing the opportunities?

It seems that the opportunities aren’t always inclusive of all young people, but perhaps young people are actually the most able to contribute within these roles. I want to see more charities recognising the opportunities and skills young people can bring and extending more board positions to the under 35s.

Some charities are failing to recognise all the creative ideas and modern-day skills they can reap from young people. They are forgetting that we are the key to the digital age and the next generation of thinkers and innovators.

That being said, I have consolidated a few key questions to help charity boards.

Do you care to know what young people think? It’s essential for a charity to recognise that the views of young people, not just on "youth" issues but on everything, can play a huge role in developing and strengthening a charity at the highest level. Young people care. We are smart, we think differently and we are an incredible and essential part of strategic leadership, governance and oversight of the BYC.

How can you ensure that you are utilising this untapped resource? Does your board reflect the diverse range of people and issues that you are championing? Any board will be making decisions on behalf of the organisation, ensuring that the decisions are informed so it has the best outcome possible. A board needs to reflect a range of skills, including legal, finance, HR, impact measurement and more. These are commonly sought and exampled.

Does your board reflect the experiences and characteristics of your charity? This includes age, but it also gender, ethnicity, disability, health and more. If your answer is no, it does not reflect the charity's values and issues, so do something about it and get trustees on your board that do.

How do you support your trustees? All trustees and board members will need support, whether through training, mentoring or guidance. Young people will be no different, so ensure you are providing the support and structures that you need for them to be able to contribute fully.

Not only does a more age-inclusive board benefit the charity and its governance, but it gives more young people from all walks of life the opportunity to grow, develop and learn at a senior level.

Two years ago, I joined a team of 13 other young people aged between 18 and 25, who were all equally passionate and engaged about the work of the BYC and about young people’s representation within society. I am pleased to say that our board has not only pushed through some exciting changes and projects, but we have also been nominated for multiple awards recently, including my Charity Chair of the Year award.

The Charity Commission has an online register of more than 160,000 charities where you can look for registered charities that work in an area you want to make a difference to or fight for a cause you are passionate about. If you want to know more about what it means to be a charity trustee, you can find more information on www.Trusteesweek.org.

Anna Rose Barker is chair of the British Youth Council

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