Why becoming a charity trustee could help your career

Why becoming a charity trustee could help your career

According to the latest reports from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), unemployment figures stand at 2.61 million and youth unemployment is at record levels. This means that the competition for jobs has never been as fierce. With a new crop of school leavers and graduates about to enter the job market, things are likely get worse.

With so many people in the market, changing career, moving into another industry sector or returning to the workplace has become increasingly difficult. The plethora of candidates coupled with businesses that are contracting creates a very challenging market for job seekers. Standing out from the crowd has never been more important.

One often overlooked way for people to gain work experience and pick up new skills is by volunteering for a charity or becoming a trustee. With over 170,000 UK charitable organisations ranging from large big brand charities to small organisations employing just a few people, there are many and varied opportunities for would be trustees.

It is estimated that there are 950,000 trustee positions in the UK, so there are plenty of diverse and interesting opportunities for first timers. Most importantly, many charities are looking out for new trustees – particularly young people. An estimated one in five UK charities has at least one vacant position on their trustee board. Through holding a trusteeship people learn valuable skills, gain new experiences, make good contacts, enhance their CVs and at the same time contribute to society. This kind of experience can greatly enhance their employability
and help them secure paid employment.

Trusteeships however are not just for job seekers – serving on a charity board can give people valuable skills at any time in their careers; it offers an opportunity to give something back, learn about a different sector and make a difference. It can also be a life changing experience which opens the door to new career opportunities and experiences.

It is important to note that being a trustee is hard work and that it is a serious commitment. Being a trustee means that you have fiduciary and strategic oversight of the charity and the buck does stop with the board. It is important therefore to understand the liabilities involved and undertake due diligence and research into an organisation before accepting a role.

Here is some advice that potential trustees should seek clarity on before accepting a role:
- Be clear about the rules and responsibilities you are taking on – who can make the decisions and who can’t?

- What is the leadership style within the organisation? How good is the Chief Executive?

- What is its strategic direction and business objectives?

- What are the charities’ resources? You need to include everything from the land it owns to intellectual property and trademarks

- What are the training and induction processes for new trustees?

- Every charity has a governance document containing rules for trustees. Make sure you see this at the outset, as it is your duty to comply with these rules and you be held responsible if you do not

- What are the time commitments? Every charity will have different expectations

- Understand who the beneficiaries are, as this is where the organisation’s loyalty lies.

Although all these factors need to be considered carefully, there are some huge benefits and rewards in being a trustee and for many people, it can be a life-changing experience or the route to a new career path or their first paid job.

Charities often want to attract people from diverse backgrounds, young and old, to inject energy and fresh ideas into their boards. Just remember to do your homework first and be aware of the challenges as well as the opportunities before taking on a trusteeship. If you do you will likely have one of the most rewarding experiences of your career to date.
*Ian Joseph is Chief Executive of Trustees Unlimited and Managing Director – Charities and Not for profit, Russam GMS. Trustees Unlimited is a joint venture recruitment company set up by law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite, The National Council of voluntary organisations (NCVO) and Russam GMS, a leading interim recruitment provider. They set up a trustee recruitment firm because one in five charities currently have trustee vacancies and many are looking for younger trustees or people from different backgrounds to improve diversity and get a better mix of skills/input. They now have around 1600 candidates on their database and strategic partners with a raft of corporate partners.

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