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On becoming a trustee

Our Events Trustee, Jess Phillimore, shares her experience of being a trustee at refugeeEd, and encourages other young people to consider applying for trustee roles.

When I thought about becoming a charity trustee, I had a pretty good idea what the role would involve, but no idea what it would actually be like for me (and whether I could do it!). I thought trustees had to already have years and years of experience in a sector and be of a certain age. The current situation reflects this; less than 3% of trustees are under 30 according to the Young Trustees Movement, and there is still gender disparity at board level. I thought that because I didn’t know anyone my age in a trustee role it would be difficult for me to find a suitable position. When I talk to friends and colleagues this is a common belief many young people share when they consider joining a charity board.

I’ve been a trustee for the refugee education charity refugeeEd for almost a year. When I was applying for the role, I initially doubted whether I had the right experience. In reality, the skills I’ve developed over the years – building relationships with organisations and people, managing projects plus my work in corporate partnership fundraising really helped me understand many aspects of my role as a trustee. I know there will be lots of people who might think their experience might not be right for the role but it’s really important to think about the skills you’ve developed and your connection and commitment to a particular cause. All trustees need to have the charity’s beneficiaries at the forefront of their thinking.

The great thing about being a trustee is there is so much opportunity for development in the role and you quickly gain confidence in strategic decision making. Everyone’s experience of this will be different and really depends on the type of organisation or board you are working with. refugeeEd is a small charity and is entirely run by a volunteer board. Each trustee has varied experience from education, civil service and communications and importantly all of us are open to each other’s ideas and asking for support or advice. I’ve been able to bring my corporate partnership experience to my trustee role by managing fundraising events and developing our communications to supporters. However, many aspects of my role are completely new to me, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of learning about other areas, such as charity governance.

The small size of the charity also means that the board works particularly closely with the education specialists and partner organisations delivering education support to refugees in Greece. During the Covid-19 pandemic this has really helped us make essential changes to our way of working, such as running education workshops online and creating easily accessible education resources. So far, being a trustee has been a brilliant opportunity to directly contribute to the board’s decision-making process to enable more refugees to access education.

I know there are so many talented people out there, particularly young people, who could bring so much to charitable organisations as a trustee. Charity boards do have a diversity problem in terms of age, race, gender and life experience which need to be addressed. For board members to make informed decisions for the charity and its beneficiaries the views of young people matter. There are some fantastic organisations such as the Young Trustees Movement and Getting On Board which aim to address this issue.

Joining refugeeEd’s board is helping me develop skills which I know will benefit me in the future, and I believe that more young people should take advantage of such opportunities. I would urge anyone who has ever thought about becoming a trustee to give it a go. It is so important to use your voice and experience to help improve the lives of others.


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