Monday, 3 October 2011

Leon Ward's story...

Leon Ward was appointed as a trustee of Plan International UK in 2010 when he was just 18, having previously volunteered for four years as a young advisor to the charity. Plan is a large, international charity that works in 50 developing countries to promote child rights and lift children out of poverty. He is also a trustee of Leap Confronting Conflict, a smaller conflict resolution charity, which prevents the escalation of everyday conflict into destructive behaviour and violence by giving young people and the professionals that work with them the skills to understand the causes and consequences of conflict. He was appointed to Leap's board in 2012. Leon describes his experience of being a trustee as ‘enriching, exciting, and dynamic’.

Originally from Grimsby, Leon is currently balancing his trustee duties with studying Law at Westminster University. He believes young people can bring useful skills to charity boards, but that they are often overlooked as potential trustees.

Leon says: Some charities might forget about the benefits of having young trustees but it is important that they look at it. It would be great to see more young people from different backgrounds on trustee boards. Young people bring a fresh perspective, new ideas and different ways of thinking to (often) old and conventional boards. Charity Commission research proves that young people are completely under represented on boards, this has to change. This isn't just about 'representing' young people for a youth focused charity, it is more about offering tailored, relevant and sophisticated expertise to the charities' direction and activities.

“When people hear the word ‘trustee’ or ‘director’ it makes them think of experienced, qualified professionals but anyone can be a charity trustee. I believe that many young people have something valuable to offer, if you have a good, clear, moral mind you don’t need to know the ins and outs of charity law because you can learn these in the role. Your passion about a charity’s work should be enough drive to encourage you to apply for trusteeship. Charities should be flexible and should offer you the opportunity to receive training in areas you feel less confident about; for instance I've received tailored training on charity finance because I needed and wanted it.

“As trustees we generally keep a watchful eye over the charity, ensuring good practice and comparing ourselves to our competitors. We help sustain the moral standards of the charity and make sure we comply with charity law. People are generous enough to give money to us and it is important we spend it properly. We also act in an advisory function to the operational functions of a charity which usually includes most broad aspects of the charities activities such as marketing/communications, fundraising, policy and programming work.

"The best thing about being a trustee of Plan is knowing that I am part of an organisation that is actively improving and saving the lives of children on a scale that is hard to imagine - in 2010 we reached 27 million children. I have had some amazing experiences as a trustee, including a visit to see the charity’s work in Ghana, which was incredible as well as being a guest on one of the Royal flotilla boats during the Queens diamond Jubilee. It's been really intesresting this year to be able to compare my role at Plan to how I work with Leap which is a much smaller charity. Both have different approaches to different aspects such as recruitment of new trustee's and their marketing activities. I would advise others to try and get experience of working with both large and small charities - it's a really enriching process.

“Being a charity trustee is definitely worthwhile, in my experience you get to meet some outstanding and well connected people. It has given me the opportunity to learn how both a massive and a small organisation works. Equally, I believe that young people bring something unique to charity boards, it can be hard to change the institutional behaviour that organisations and their Boards have. Having young people on the board sends out a strong signal on the diversified thinking of the organisation and encourages participation by what is otherwise an apathetic generation. It shows that board and the organisation are trying to stay modern and relevant to the lives of young people."

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