What young professionals and businesses can gain through ‘giving something back’

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Written by Ian Joseph on 13 June 2014 in Features

Leadership and communication skills improve as a result of volunteering schemes, Ian Joseph says

A report from think tank Demos[i] last month argued that more bosses should be encouraged to award promotions or pay rises to employees who have volunteered for charities. The research claimed that participation in volunteering schemes can boost employees’ skills and job satisfaction, and that workers can save their employers thousands of pounds in training costs by the skills they gain helping good causes. 61 per cent of employees questioned by Demos agreed volunteering experience made them perform better in their job whilst two-thirds (66 per cent) saw a noticeable improvement in their communication skills, with negotiating (45 per cennt), team-working (43 per cent) and leadership skills (41 per cent) also enjoying a timely boost. 

The report estimated that British firms spend around £40 billion a year on training, and individual leadership-training courses can cost up to £2,500. In comparison, the average cost per employee of running a volunteer programme is just £381.10 year.

We believe this is a win-win situation for charities, businesses and employees to volunteer and earlier this month we marked Volunteers Week by calling for more young professionals to become volunteer trustees and to fill gaps at board level. Not only does the charity benefit from their corporate experience and having a more diverse board; the company they work for benefits from them gaining different ‘softer’ skills such as better communication, leadership and team-working skills, and learning to work with people and organisations outside of their usual sphere.

Many more of the trustees we are recruiting to charity boards these days are full-time professionals in their 30s and 40s with a range of corporate and business skills that can really boost the performance of a charity. Younger professionals can bring expertise and a different perspective to Britain’s boards, which many charities welcome.

There are more than 180,000 charities in England and Wales registered with the Charity Commission, and it’s estimated that around half have at least one vacancy on their board. With the volunteer sector being called on to provide more services, the need for top talent on charity boards is more pressing than ever. Many young professionals may not have considered trusteeship as a way of volunteering, but it can be a great way to enhance employability and career prospects, as well as the opportunity to give something back to society.

There is also a need for charity boards to become more diverse and attract people from all backgrounds to help improve governance and performance. According to figures from the Charity Commission, just 0.5 per cent of trustees in England and Wales are aged between 18 and 24 (compared with 12 per cent of the population as a whole); the average age of trustees is 57, and two thirds are aged over 50, plus 43.4 per cent of trustees are female and 56 per cent are male.

Charities themselves, however, have a big role to play to attract young professionals. Many are still failing to cast their recruitment net widely enough to attract people with a broad range of skills and experience. Some are guilty of make meetings inaccessible to working professionals and failing to review the performance of trustees regularly or refresh the skills on their boards to make room for new recruits. Another problem is that some charities aren’t promoting their vacancies widely enough to attract professional people.

This issue was raised by Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts at Russam GMS's annual civil society event held in May. Lord Hodgson said there was a clear link between underperforming charities and boards where trustees had served for five, 10 or even 15 years. He also stressed that if charities hold their meetings at lunchtime, in the middle of the week at the golf club how can they expect to attract professional people.

One charity that has recently recruited three mid-career professional trustees is Music of Life, a small charity providing high quality musical education and performance opportunities for children and young people with disabilities and special needs. The charity was looking for new trustees, following recent departures, with expertise in marketing and communications, finance and fundraising and ideally experience of working in the fields of disability or education.

The trustees chosen were all working professionals – Stephanie Stewart a former charity CEO and Jessica Clark, a lawyer, school governor and already a trustee at Brent Community Law Centre, whose son also has special needs.

Since being in the roles the chief executive of Music of Life, Maria Teterina has commented that the organisation has already been transformed because of their specialist skills and passion for the cause and the charity is planning ahead with confidence and developing a new strategic plan which she believes they will be able deliver.

There are huge benefits and rewards to be gained by being a trustee, and it can be a truly life changing experience, however, anyone thinking of taking on the role needs to be aware of the risks and liabilities that come with it; and they should always undertake due diligence and research into an organisation before applying and accepting a trusteeship.

Below are my tips for people considering a trustee role:

  • Be sure that this is really something you want to do. Do lots of research online about the pros and cons of being a trustee before making a decision
  • Visit the http://www.volunteering.org.uk website as there’s lots of useful information on how to volunteer
  • Make sure you do your homework and find a charity you feel really passionate about. If you are going to dedicate a lot of time to the charity, you need to feel strongly about it
  • Be aware of the time commitments. Every charity will have different expectations. Make sure you can give it the time it requires but that there is still time available for you to look for full time employment and attend interviews. Don’t over commit!


About the author

Ian Joseph is CEO of Trustees Unlimited and joint managing director at Russam GMS


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