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Wired4Music Trustees – what we have learned from year 1

Just over a year ago, Sound Connections welcomed two people under the age of 25 onto its board of trustees for the first time. Anyone age 18-25 and a member of Wired4Music (a free network hosted by Sound Connections) was eligible to apply for the role.

With a year of experience under our belt, our Chair of Trustees, Senior Management Team, Wired4Music staff, and the new trustees themselves, reviewed the highs and lows and identified the principles and actions that have made for successful inclusion of young trustees. In this article Programme Manager Jennifer Raven shares a few of the most important considerations for welcoming young trustees onto a board.

In this article, I have used the term young trustee as one which is commonly recognised for trustees under the age of 25 (or sometimes 30). We try to avoid using it with our board though, because it implies they are somehow different or less qualified, which isn’t true and doesn’t help create an equitable board or inclusive dynamic.

The application process – give as much information as possible about what it means to be a trustee, to be part of strategic decision making, and to participate in boardroom discussions. If you have never done it before, all of these things can be very mysterious and abstract ideas.

Be very proactive about making it clear what people can expect each step of the way. This year, we held an open evening for people to come and hear first-hand what being a trustee is all about and recently we have been filming a short video that gives people an insight into trustee life.

Strength in numbers – we always recruit two young trustees at once, so they can support each other, learn together and find their feet with someone going through the same process.

Meetings – at board meetings make sure young trustees have a seat at the centre of the table, preferably opposite the Chair. Find opportunities for them to give a prepared presentation; this ensures they have a chance to speak in a way that feels safe and within their control, and avoids them feeling like imposters.

In between meetings – pair them up with a buddy who takes responsibility for explaining things like annual accounts, policies and other governance papers.

Length of term – we have found a 1-year term for young trustees works well as it gives people enough time to learn and settle into the role but also gives them the freedom to move onto other things at a time in their lives when things are often changing fast. It also means that other people get to have a go. Once their time as a trustee comes to an end, work with them on an exit strategy and support them to take their next steps. This might include staying involved in the charity in other ways, becoming a trustee at another charity or using the skills they’ve developed as a trustee to progress in their career.

Different people find different ways to contribute – make sure speaking up at meetings isn’t the only way someone can share an idea or opinion. Email exchanges in between meetings and participation in working groups tackling a particular issue or project are other opportunities for people to have a say and play a part in decision making.

Benefit to the young trustees must come first – most important of all is to make sure that priority is given to what the young trustee wants and needs from the role.

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