Keep it legal: Recruiting young trustees

At 31, I kid myself that I'm still a young trustee.

The young people that my charity serves and employs undoubtedly think otherwise, but the statistics are in my favour - recent research by Third Sector and not-for-profit think tank nfpSynergy found that boards across the sector include more individuals over the age of 74 than under 34.

We're not doing well at drawing younger people into our governance structures. A day barely passes without the media pumping out negative messages about young people and their role in society. Yet away from the headline-grabbing, anti-social behaviour of a tiny minority of young people, the reality is very different. A ground-breaking report published by the Scout Association in January indicated that UK teenagers are far more confident, respectful and caring than many of the stereotypes applied to them would suggest.

So why are we failing to engage them in governance? Perceptions about personal liability and the duties of trusteeship often block their involvement, and the Government has indirectly reinforced some of these fears through the Companies Act 2006.

After implementation of the act next year, the minimum age for company directors (including directors of charities incorporated as companies limited by guarantee) will be 16. In addition, the act sets out a substantial list of directors' duties. This does little more than set out in black and white duties already in place under case law, but it is a stark reminder of what is required of trustees.

This is one of the reasons why I badger clients to implement best practice by carrying out regular skills audits, starting board-mentoring programmes and undertaking ongoing training to ensure trustees can meet the regulatory challenges presented to them. These principles are even more important for boards seeking to involve young people, but on their own they are not enough. Space needs to be made to allow young people to use their own language and different decision-making processes, and to offer life experiences that differ vastly from those of older generations. If young people are to do anything more than tick the 'inclusivity' box before quickly disengaging, boards must be prepared to listen and embrace fresh ways of 'doing' governance.

- Tim Waldron is head of the charity and community team at Coffin, Mew & Clover

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