Geraldine Peacock: Charities need more diverse trustee boards

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The Independent Online

The year of the Volunteer is drawing to its close and all the evidence is that it's been a real success - tapping into a mood and a need in society to give something back. The Commission seized on this opportunity to make a push to encourage people to become charity trustees - the people who govern the 190,000 charities in England and Wales.

We've teamed up with volunteer charity TimeBank for Get on Board, a campaign to encourage people to come forward as trustees. We're also dispelling a few myths about trusteeship. You don't have to be retired, middle-aged and middle class to contribute to a charity you care about. And you don't have to wait to be asked.

Trustees have a wide remit. It's their job to make sure their charity stays solvent and does the things it was set up to do. They also make sure charities meet their legal obligations - such as the timely submission of accounts and annual returns to the Charity Commission. The role can be hard and is usually unpaid - but the personal rewards can be huge.

We want people on trustee boards to be as diverse as the charities they represent. Currently, half of all trustees are over 40 years old and relatively few come from ethnic minorities. We want to broaden this to include younger people from a range of backgrounds.

Because if young people don't step forward now, who will govern the charities of the future? The early results from Get on Board give me confidence we're on the right track. In less than three months over 1,600 people have registered with the campaign. Around threequarters of these are under the age of 45, compared with just one-quarter of currently serving trustees and a quarter of those who signed up are people from minority ethnic backgrounds.

From the world of business to the public sector, more organisations are realising the benefits of their staff giving time to voluntary work. Trustee volunteers strengthen the skills-base in any work force and evidence suggests that volunteering makes employees more marketable.

Over two-thirds of employers say they'd prefer a candidate with volunteering experience to one without. Many of the FTSE top performers have volunteering programmes and agree that these provide huge development potential; they improve motivation, contribute to job satisfaction and help with staff retention.

Accountancy firm Deloitte & Touche, for example, has a volunteer programme for its staff and endorses Get on Board. Ford Motor Company runs a scheme where employees spend two work days a year helping with community projects.

Clearly, encouraging trusteeship and volunteering helps build an organisation's reputation. But, even more importantly, volunteering as a charity trustee can provide people with an insight into management and leadership. Employers benefit from improved staff engagement and can even integrate their volunteering programme into wider business plans.

Research shows that half of the charities surveyed have problems recruiting trustees. Increasingly, charities are preparing more carefully before recruiting, but many still rely on informal methods like word of mouth.

The trustees who have helped with Get on Board have spoken of the profound satisfaction of working with passionate boards to bring about change. Diverse boards and different people can bring a new dynamism and creativity to charities.

So our message to charities is to cast their nets more widely when recruiting and to look after their new trustees. Ensure that their first few months are a positive experience. That way they are more likely to stay the course.

For more information about Get on Board, see: www.getonboard.org.uk which explains what's involved in being a charity trustee. When you've made up your mind, visit www.do-it.org.uk which is a quick way of finding volunteer opportunities near you. Or call 0845 601 4008, or text the word "trustee" to 07766 404 142

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