Board-level volunteering

Learning new skills, making connections, exploring opportunities and gaining experience are just some of the career benefits that come with trusteeships

There are many career benefits that come with board-level volunteering. Half of the 180,000 charities in England and Wales have a vacant slot, representing 90,000 opportunities to make a difference by sharing skills, experience and donating time. At the same time you will be learning new skills, making connections, exploring opportunities, rising to new challenges and gaining a huge personal and professional boost. Yet somehow trusteeships remain a well-kept secret. Concerns about the time commitment or whether you have the right expertise can get in the way of focusing on what an inspiring, invigorating and worthwhile role it is. Trustees’ Week (10­­–16 November) offers an opportunity to get this message across.

Research by Getting on Board shows that being a trustee makes people happier and more confident, and could increase career opportunities. The problem is that there is not enough noise being made about these impressive gains and many do not realise that charities are calling out for people to become trustees. The benefits to the charity are obvious, but the personal and professional rewards are not publicised enough. Interviews with 200 trustees, past and present, conducted in April 2014 uncovered some interesting and surprising facts about trusteeships.

Personal benefits

Of those trustees questioned, 84% said they are happier because of their board-level volunteering role. Trusteeship is also a positive influence on self-esteem, with 74% of women saying they have improved in confidence thanks to being a trustee. This sense of personal wellbeing that comes from spending a little time doing something to help others is part of what keeps many trustees in their roles far longer than the minimum term set out by the charity. Other positive opportunities include:

  • Relate to and work with people from all walks of life
  • Develop an understanding of how other people live and the challenges they face
  • Broaden knowledge and appreciation of the world

The average time commitment for a trusteeship is just 30 hours a year and is enough to give trustees a chance to reap the benefits. Charities usually require their trustees for a couple of hours each month. This is generally a meeting, but it can also be time spent reading reports or attending events on behalf of the charity. Most trustees (84%) said their volunteering role fits in with their personal and professional life and that they found the time commitment reasonable.

Professional benefits

The tasks trustees take on and the way they work with other board members and charity staff are excellent ways to gain new skills and undertake extra training and development outside of the workplace. For company secretaries, and others looking to take their career to the next level, a trusteeship is a springboard for a non-executive director role. It can help you to stand out among the competition and demonstrate that you have the required attributes and knowledge gained from hands-on work.

Almost all (96%) trustees said they have learned new skills and nearly a quarter (22%) have gained a promotion as a result of board-level volunteering. Of female trustees, 38% said they have new leadership aspirations as a result of sitting on a charity board.

Employers are benefiting too, by gaining increased skills among their workforce and enhancing their CSR programmes, by encouraging and supporting staff to take on trusteeships. The majority of employers (85%) see trusteeships as an effective and low-cost way to enable staff to develop skills. Nearly two-thirds (62%) said encouraging board-level volunteering raises their CSR profile.

These work-focused gains are not only for those who are already walking a career path, as 64% of young adults aged 18 to 24 said a trusteeship has improved their CV. Remaining active, gaining skills and experience of working as part of a team and boosting self-esteem are also key for jobseekers.

Become a trustee

The first step is to make your intentions known. Networking is key. Next time you chat with a colleague at the coffee machine or have a personal development meeting mention your desire to become a trustee.

Start thinking about what kind of charity you would like to work with. An organisation that you already have a connection with or strong feelings for is a great place to start as passion and commitment are important. Do some research and, if you feel confident enough, contact them directly about trustee vacancies. You could also use the Getting on Board signposting service which will help find suitable positions and advise on applications. This service is available to individuals, or you could encourage your company to sign up for a number of sessions to offer to other employees.

As with any organisation, charities need a diverse mix of people and talents. In the past charity trustees were traditionally accountants lawyers and HR experts. These days, as charities make their mark on the internet and via social media, communications experts, web developers, photographers, graphic designers and fundraisers are just as essential in helping charities become sustainable and gain support. The particular skills that company secretaries have developed can be of great value in helping to guide and support the board of trustees.

Nearly all (98%) trustees said they would recommend board-level volunteering but trusteeships can seem difficult to find. Some 85% of trustees do not think volunteering opportunities are widely known and this needs to change. It is important that charities highlight the personal, professional, business and economic benefits and those already involved need to help spread the word.

Katherine Sparkes is Chief Executive of Getting on Board

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