Why charities need to attract ‘Millennials’ to their boards

In Trustees Week (2-8 November), Trustees Unlimited is urging charities to do more to recruit ‘millennials’ (people aged 18-35 years) to their boards in a bid to stay more relevant to modern society and future proof their organisations.

Trustees Unlimited points to evidence from the report ‘More to Give: London Millennials Working Towards a Better World’, published by City Philanthropy and Cass Business School, which highlighted that 53% of under-35s working full time in London want to volunteer more than they do, rising to 60% in the younger 18-24 age group. They believe charities are failing to attract this age group. 

According to the The Young Trustees Guide, launched by the Charities Aid Foundation, fewer than 2 per cent of charities in the UK have a person under 24 serving as a trustee and the average age of a board member is 57.  

Ian Joseph, Chief Executive of Trustees Unlimited, says “Charities are missing out a huge pool of young talent and the significant benefits they could bring to their organisations. Millennials have grown up in a technical era and can harness social media to engage their own generation in fundraising. They also bring energy, enthusiasm and they are our future generation of business leaders and pioneers. On the flip side, they can learn new skills, enhance their employability and progress professionally – it’s a real win-win.”

Justin Davis Smith, Executive Director of Volunteering and Development at NCVO, agrees.  He says “The future of the sector depends on finding better ways of harnessing the enthusiasm and skills of young people as volunteers in all guises and particularly in governance and leadership positions. The sector is beginning to recognise it is missing the fresh perspectives young people can bring and many organisations are now changing their strategies to attract them.”

LHA London, a provider of high quality accommodation in London for students and young people starting out in London, is one such organisation.

Tony Perkins, Chief Executive at LHA London, explains “We reviewed our charitable objective of providing accommodation to young people in the heart of London and decided it would be proper to engage with the young beneficiaries profile by increasing the number of young trustees on our board. We commissioned Trustees Unlimited and have successfully recruited a young lawyer in her 30s and we were pleased to find her employer encourages staff to volunteer as part of their working life. We are now recruiting a young person with a background in social housing policy and we aim to continue to review our trustees skill-set and profile for future appointments to our board.”  

One way to encourage young people onto boards is through workplace schemes. The ‘More to Give’ report highlighted the importance of workplace schemes and initiatives in encouraging younger people to volunteer, with over one-quarter (26%) of those under-35s surveyed mentioning it as a positive influence. And over three-fifths of under-35s agree opportunities at work to get involved in supporting charities help employees to develop work-related skills (62%).

Trustees Unlimited is currently running such a scheme with Barclays, law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges and others, to encourage their employees onto charity boards.

Ian Joseph concludes: “We’re calling on all UK charities during Trustees Week to re-think their trustee recruitment strategies and appeal to younger people, such as using social media and other recruitment methods to attract them. We believe this will make their boards stronger, improve governance and decision making and make for greater innovation – ultimately helping to future proof the charity for many years to come.”

Ian’s practical tips for organisations recruiting younger trustees:

  • Create a strong business case for bringing in younger trustees – some older trustees may be reluctant to agree unless they can see the benefits
  • Provide a buddy on the board for the younger trustees to help them settle
  • Make sure you have a good formal induction process, for many younger people it will be their first trustee role so this is even more important
  • Use social media to attract younger trustees or create a YouTube video on why the charity wants younger trustees
  • Make sure to do an appraisal every year – as well as making people accountable, it helps people feel secure, and provides a platform for raising any concerns or issues they may have