November 07, 2022


Today I’m delighted to speak with Laura Blake. Laura has worked within the charitable sector for over a decade and is currently the Philanthropy Director at Somerset Community Foundation. She became a trustee in her twenties and I was really pleased to be able to chat with her about what the sector can do to encourage younger trustees.

Laura, thanks so much for joining me today. Let’s start with what charities you’ve been involved with and why you became a trustee, particularly so young?

In my day-job, I’m Philanthropy Director at Somerset Community Foundation and have been a fundraiser for the last 14 years. Until last year, when we took the charity through a merger, I was a Trustee of Pathways to Independence, a Kent-based charity supporting homeless people with complex needs.

I became a Trustee when I was in my late twenties for two main reasons: firstly, I wanted to use my skills and expertise as a fundraiser to make a difference to people’s lives in my local community at the time. Secondly, I thought it would be fantastic experience to be able to sit on a board and learn more more about governance, strategy and organisational leadership; at that point I was head of a fundraising team in a large national charity, but had limited opportunities to build my understanding of what it really takes to run an organisation.

Knowing where to start in finding a Trustee role at that age can be tough – how did you do it?

I found my Trustee role on Guardian Jobs, applied, and had an interview with the Chief Executive and the Chair at the time. Locally, Spark Somerset is a fantastic place to find Trustee vacancies – there are always plenty!

You clearly are really passionate about the sector – what did you enjoy about being a Trustee and what did you get out of it?

I loved using my skills to make a difference. During Covid, for example, I helped the charity through an incredibly tough time by helping them securing significant funding from the National Lottery Community Fund.

I also learned a huge amount from everyone else on the board and the charity’s leadership team, deepening my understanding of the challenges faced by medium-sized charities and holding me in good stead to move into my current charity leadership role.

You were certainly in the minority being a trustee in your twenties – a survey carried out back in 2018 identified that only 1.46% of Trustees were under the age of 34 and the average age of a trustee was 60-62 years. How do you think more younger people can be encouraged to be a trustee?

Charities should be running open and transparent recruitment processes and be mindful of how they can make their board meetings more inclusive: can they be run as hybrid meetings, for example, so they can be fit into a working day more easily? Can you cover expenses – and explicitly advertise that you do - so younger people aren’t left out of pocket?

I also think that the voluntary sector needs to do more to proactively engage with younger people in business - and even within our own sector – to help them understand the benefits of becoming a Trustee and what they can bring to a charity.

In my day job, when I’m building CSR partnerships with local business leaders, I always talk to them about encouraging their staff to take part in skills-based volunteering like becoming a Trustee or using their technical skill set to offer strategic support to charities.

It truly is an incredible leadership development opportunity and an amazing way to build Director-level understanding of running an organisation. It’s hard to replicate elsewhere unless you’ve started your own business.

I also think younger people – and inexperienced Trustees generally – could benefit from some dedicated mentoring on governance from more experienced Trustees. I found the governance aspects of becoming a Trustee fairly daunting, and I’d have loved more support to help me better understand my responsibilities, how to deal with common governance issues, and what good governance looks like in practice. I very much felt I had to learn along the way and practice the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ approach, but I’d have loved to have been able to tap into some dedicated support to empower me to be a better Trustee.

Some brilliant insights – thank you! What tips would you give any younger person who is thinking about becoming a trustee?

Find a charity that is a good match for you: it’s good to find a cause that resonates with you, and it’s good to really get a feel for the charity, the board and team, and what the charity’s plans and ambitions are.

Find out what they need from you and where you can really add value. With smaller organisations, you might find Trustees are needed to be much more hands on and operational, whereas medium or large charities tend to need more strategic support, advice and leadership. Be clear on how much time you can realistically offer and the sort of support you’d like to give from the outset – it’s always a two-way interview process!

Give it a go – it’s an amazing way to make a difference.

Thanks so much Laura – it’s great to have the insight of someone who became a trustee so young, and hopefully your words will inspire others to give it a go!


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