How to get staff and employers on board

Charity trustee boards are too often male, pale and stale, but the workplace can act as a route towards trusteeship

Trusteeship: Standard Life encourages staff to get involved
Trusteeship: Standard Life encourages staff to get involved

One of the more startling findings of last year's National Trustee Survey by the consultancy nfpSynergy concerned the age of trustees: 56 per cent were aged over 55; only 8 per cent were under 35.

Career commitments combined with family life tend to deter skilled younger people from giving their time. Add into the mix that many boards struggle to recruit people from ethnic minorities or those with disabilities and you end up with charity boards that are too male, pale and stale.

A recent report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities identified this as a problem and urged the government to work with business leaders to "develop a new initiative to promote trusteeship to employees and employers and thereby encourage greater participation and diversity".

But some initiatives are already under way. Ian Joseph is the managing director of the executive and interim management provider Russam GMS. It operates Step on Board on behalf of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, helping companies to find suitable trustee positions for their employees.

Joseph says the programme has mutual benefits. For the employer, staff learn new skills and gain experience in boardroom roles, which they can then apply in the workplace. Employees enhance their CVs and boost their career prospects. The charities get to have highly skilled young professionals on their boards. "Those who gain the most here are the beneficiaries of the charity," says Joseph. "You get a highly qualified director moving onto a charity board. That injection of experience can be transformative for an organisation. The thing I get really excited about is smaller organisations benefiting from these skills."

Step on Board works with about eight employers, including the BBC, Barclays and Google. Joseph says the programme has become increasingly popular, partly as a result of the trend for younger professionals wanting to give something back to society and expecting their employers to do the same.

"There is a sense that companies recognise that they aren't islands any more and have a responsibility to broader society," says Joseph. "Quite frankly, if businesses don't go down this route in some shape or form, I think they are really doing themselves some damage."

One company that has set up a trustee programme is the investment firm Standard Life. Its scheme works by encouraging staff to explore opportunities to be trustees through a hub on the company's employee intranet. The company runs a series of development workshops to help employees who are interested in trusteeship. Staff are also offered three paid volunteering days, which they can use to help them fulfil their trustee duties.

Nicky Jeynes, senior talent and organisational development consultant at Standard Life, says: "It's important for us to give something back to the communities in which we operate. One way we can do this is to encourage our employees to use and develop their skills in trustee roles. "We know that staff who feel supported in their personal and professional development are more likely to be happy at work and engaged with what they do. Employees who take up external appointments can bring back different perspectives and new skills. So we don't do this only because enabling our employees to get involved with charities is the right thing to do, but also because it makes sound commercial sense."

Jeynes says the scheme has proved popular: 29 per cent of its senior leadership group hold external board positions, and the company promotes the scheme to potential management candidates.

Joseph says he is confident that more companies will encourage staff to become trustees. "I would like a future in which every young person - certainly every graduate - takes on a trustee role as they take on their first job," he says. "There is so much misunderstanding between sectors: this would break down barriers and transfer knowledge, skills and experience. Why wouldn't we want a society in which everyone does this sort of thing?"


Greg Davies

Greg Davies (left), head of behavioural finance at Centapse, a behavioural finance specialist, has been a trustee at Sound and Music, a charity that supports new music, since September 2014.

"The Step on Board programme was offered through my then employer, Barclays. I had previous experience of Sound and Music, so when I saw it on the list it seemed the perfect match. I wanted the chance to do something more socially valuable than my day job in financial services, but which used my expertise and skills rather than just my money or my time.

"The experience of working with a very dive rse and experienced group of people on the board from whom I've learned a great deal has been a huge benefit. There was definitely an initial learning curve, especially when I was made chair of the finance subcommittee immediately. But it was comforting to note that my experience and financial knowledge were accepted from the start, and I found myself quite comfortable contributing.

"Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed the people, the organisation and the experience: I have engaged in a wide range of projects and decisions that I would never have had the opportunity to experience in the course of my day job, and enjoyed a sense of belonging to an organisation doing valuable work in promoting creativity, education, and culture.

"I can't see why this is not considered a completely standard thing to do for both personal and professional development. And it is fun."

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