Young people are under-represented on the boards of charities. Their experience, perspective and enthusiasm mean they have a great deal to contribute, and not just to charities 'for' young people. There are 11m children under 18 in England. There are 180,000 registered charities in England and Wales, with nearly 850,000 trustees, but less than 4,500 of those trustees (less than 1%) are under 25.
The Commission wants to encourage charities to think seriously about the benefits of involving young people. We have done two particular pieces of work on this. In May 2004 we registered Funky Dragon, the Welsh youth parliament, as a charity, with four of the eight trustees being under 18 years old. And in October 2007 we co-hosted a round table with the Governance Hub, National Children's Bureau (NCB) and Participation Works to discuss Involving Young People in Governance, at the Museum of Childhood in East London. Representatives from a range of organisations including The Red Cross, Scouts, Girl Guiding, V and other charities working with young people, plus representatives of the Big Lottery Fund and the National Youth Agency took part; a number of participants having experience as young trustees.
Below are some of the key points from these two pieces of work, which we hope will inform future developments.
Involving Young People: how to do it successfully
- Charities need to take the lead in addressing under-representation of young people on their boards. Involving young people in governance can benefit charities, particularly those that serve young people - they have experience, understanding and enthusiasm to contribute. Other kinds of charities can benefit as well; for example, older people may face similar issues of age-related prejudice.
- There are different ways of involving young people in governance - as full board members, advisors, or as representatives of users or "young people" generally. These different forms of involvement carry different expectations of what young people will contribute - a user's or a young person's perspective, or a range of expertise and experience like any other trustee. Charities and young people need to agree and be clear about the reasons for their involvement.
- Young people who join boards need support (such as mentoring, clear board papers, good chairing involving active questioning and listening). Some of this support would help any new trustee.
- It's best to focus on young people's skills and experience, rather than assuming that they "represent" their peers. It is too easy to fall into a tokenistic approach to diversity. Boards also need to think widely about diversity. Some young people (such as those with disabilities or brought up in care) are more likely to be overlooked or excluded.
- Cultural change takes time and preparation, and involves effort by everyone involved. "Parachuting" young people onto the board may not be the best way to start. By involving young people in other ways first, the organisation can develop the listening and supporting skills it needs, while young people can develop the skills they need to become board members.
- We need to encourage young people who are already involved in governance (for example, in clubs at schools, colleges or universities) to continue in governance after they leave formal education. We need to find effective ways of connecting them to organisations who want to involve young people in governance, and not lose their valuable skills and experience.
Trustees under 18 - can it be done?
For some youth organisations it may be appropriate for young people under 18 to be on the board, and the Commission is supportive of the wishes of charities who wish to have some people under 18 on the board to ensure appropriate user representation.
Broadly a charity can currently take one of three legal forms - a company, a trust or an unincorporated association. The directors of a charitable company are its charity trustees. Under company law (since October 2008), the minimum age for directors is 16. The trustees of a trust or of an unincorporated association are in a different position because under trust law the minimum age for trustees is 18. When the new legal form - the Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) - becomes available, we anticipate that it will also allow over 16s to be trustees.
If you have decided that it is appropriate for your charity to appoint someone under 18 to be a trustee, (until the CIO becomes available) the charity must be formed as a company limited by guarantee. You particularly need to think about the following issues.
- Check your Articles of Association to ensure that there isn't a clause preventing anyone under 18 from being a director of the company. If there is, this clause will need to be amended (following any specific procedures set out in the Articles).
- You should consider carefully what restrictions, for practical reasons, should be placed on the total number of charity trustees who can be under 18. In the case of Funky Dragon we were satisfied that up to 50% of the charity trustee board could be composed of young people aged under 18. This reflects the nature of that charity and we would not currently recommend a larger proportion. The decision should be taken in the light of the specific circumstances of each charity. This should take into account the scale of the charity, the complexity of its activities and governance, and the range of skills and experience required on the charity trustee board.
- Ensure that prospective trustees are aware of their duties and responsibilities before they are appointed. This is important for all prospective trustees, not just those under 18.
- In some circumstances parents can be liable for the actions of their children. Parental liability would only normally arise where the parent has become involved in the running of the charity by encouraging the child to do or not to do something. We advise that parents of under 18s who are invited to become the director of a charitable company, are made aware of the duties and responsibilities of being a director, before appointment.
- If the charitable company has taken out insurance against the consequences, for the charity, of a breach of duty by the director, the insurance might not cover directors who are under 18 and this is something to check with the insurer.
Other Sources of information
Charity Commission: Research into young trustees
Our research report, A Breath of Fresh Air: young people as charity trustees, published in September 2010, identifies potential solutions to the barriers that prevent more young people taking up and retaining trustee positions. The report looks at strategies to encourage more young people to become young trustees, including a practical checklist and list of useful resources.
The checklist is intended to help charities identify the questions and issues to consider when thinking about recruiting young people to their board, what would be the best way to do this and how they could support young trustees once they are appointed. The checklist, Finding and supporting young trustees: A checklist for charities, is available as a PDF.
British Youth Council
Programmes and Training Manager
British Youth Council
1 London Bridge
London SE1 9BG
Tel: 0845 458 1489
Direct Tel: 020 7785 6461
National Children's Bureau
8 Wakley Street
London EC1V 7QE
Tel: 020 7843 6000
Direct Tel: 020 7843 6025