A lack of awareness and understanding is preventing young people from becoming charity trustees, according to new research by Ecclesiastical.

The specialist insurer, in conjunction with Getting on Board and the Young Trustees Movement, conducted a survey of 500 people aged 18-24 – dubbed Generation Z – to understand their perceptions of charity trustees.

The research, released to coincide with Trustees Week, found that many young people would join charity boards if they knew more about the role and how to get involved.

Opportunity for charities

While many Gen Zers support charities through donating (30%), volunteering (30%) or fundraising (19%), only nine per cent said they were currently a trustee. In fact, the majority have no idea what a trustee is, with just one in 10 able to explain the role when asked.

The good news for charities is that, once the role was explained, almost a quarter (24%) of those surveyed said they would consider becoming one, presenting a major opportunity to charities in the midst of a trustee recruitment crisis.

Almost two in five (38%) respondents said they would be more encouraged to become a trustee if they knew more about the role and how to become one. Improving their employability and gaining skills was another important factor for Gen Zers, with a third of respondents (32%) saying they would be encouraged to join a charity board if it supported their career goals, and was recognised by employers as valuable experience (27%). Flexible meeting times (24%) were also important.

Angus Roy, Charity Director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said:

“Our research tells us that charities need to do more to promote the benefits of being a trustee. The board of trustees will often form the strategy for the charity and so trustees gain invaluable experience in strategic planning and managing long-term risks. Working closely with other board members also means working as a team and learning from each other.

“The role also comes with a lot of responsibility, as trustees have to make sure the charity is run properly and uses its charitable funds and assets wisely to deliver its objectives. So, for young people, it’s a great opportunity to learn new skills and gain experience.”

More engagement needed

A clear message from respondents was that the charity sector needs to do more to engage with young people and encourage them to get involved.

Almost half (48%) said more guidance was needed from charities on how to become a trustee, while 45% said charities needed to promote the benefits of being a trustee more widely. This was followed by 42% saying charities should demonstrate that the skills and experience gained were valuable in the job market. The same number (42%) said charities should do more to proactively engage with schools and universities.

Penny Wilson, chief executive of trustee recruitment charity Getting on Board, said:

“We already know that young people are under-represented on charity boards as volunteer trustees. We must do more to involve young people in charity governance to draw on their skills and experiences, to reflect the next generation in our strategic planning, and to ensure a fresh supply of new people into the trustee body.

“This research from Ecclesiastical demonstrates that the barrier to more young people becoming trustees isn’t a lack of willingness: it is a lack of information and awareness with a large percentage of respondents not knowing about the role or not knowing how to become a trustee. We can take action both as individual charities as well as a sector. Ecclesiastical and Getting on Board are working on a new free guide, How to Become a Charity Trustee, and we hope that this will support more young people to understand the role of trustee.”

Young trustees want to make a difference

Making a difference (48%) and the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds (47%) were the two biggest drivers for those who were already acting as a trustee.

The research also revealed that the experience of being a trustee was overwhelmingly positive with respondents citing the application process (70%), training (65%) and getting their voice heard (65%) as being very positive.

The Young Trustees Movement is on a mission to double the number of trustees aged 30 and under on charity boards by 2024. The charity aims to change the image of what a trustee looks like, by shining a light on the impact made by young trustees.

Leon Ward, a Young Trustees Movement campaigner, said:

“I became a trustee when I was 18 years old and now at 27, I am currently serving as Deputy Chair of Brook. A board’s strength lies in its collective skills and perspectives. To understand the charity’s beneficiaries properly and serve them effectively, it needs a diverse range of people from a variety of backgrounds and experience. Trustees should particularly consider the benefits young people can bring to the boardroom such as new talents and a fresh perspective. In return, trusteeship is an excellent way for young people to learn new skills and progress professionally.”

Kira Lewis, 19, trustee of two boards and Young Trustees Movement campaigner said:

“Being a young trustee has helped me understand the importance of charities in the world we live in. From finance to social media, fundraising, and making sure policies are inclusive, the breadth and depth of talented young people can add to Boards is undeniable. Young trustees can help transform the strategy of charities to make them future-facing, and ready for the challenges of tomorrow.”