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How young volunteers can enhance charity trusteeships

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 16 Jun 2023

As we celebrate Small Charity Week, we find out why charity trusteeships aren’t just for those at the pinnacle of their working lives and why diverse talent is more sought after than ever before.

When it comes to the perception of volunteering as a charity trustee, you might think that it’s something you might do following retirement and yet the opportunities and benefits for those at the early stages of their career to get involved are plentiful.

Morgan McArthur, a 24-year-old audit associate at PwC based at the firm’s Watford office, is a case in point. McArthur is preparing to sit her ACA exams and already has an impressive track record as a charity trustee. Previously Treasurer of The British Youth Council and Trustee of Sheffield Students’ Union, she is passionate about getting younger generations involved in board-level voluntary roles.

The benefits of diversity across business are well accepted, but the message has been slow to trickle down to the charity trustee level, McArthur says. Young volunteers with a financial string to their bow have so much to offer the voluntary sector – the fact that you are still learning should be seen as a bonus, she says.

McArthur’s volunteering journey started young; her mother is a trustee for breast cancer reconstruction charity Keeping Abreast, so she was already familiar with the concept of giving your time to worthy causes. 

“I could really see what it brought out in her. I think that’s what gave me that oomph originally. If you engage in volunteering when you’re at school, you make it a part of your life. It was a lot easier to carry it on into my employment because it forms my values.”

Aged 15, when the National Citizen Service did a presentation at her school to encourage young people to volunteer their time for community projects, it felt like a fun thing to do, she says. “I was always looking for a sense of community and belonging somewhere. And for me community engagement is how you find people and how you find your purpose.”

As a student at Sheffield University, she continued to volunteer for university societies and, after graduating, stayed on for a year as a full-time executive officer while also a trustee of Sheffield’s Student Union. “I thought I’d get to organise all the nights out. But when I got into the role, I discovered I was also the director of the union’s trading business and we needed to submit our finances in two weeks.”

McArthur found she enjoyed the financial aspects of the role and her engagement with auditors was to prove a turning point. “I was the person who was sending things off to the auditors and they seemed quite passionate. I hadn’t that exposure to finance roles before, especially having studied languages at university.”

Her charity finance experience paved the way to a subsequent role – as treasurer of the British Youth Council, a role McArthur held for 18 months until just a few weeks ago. Despite her relative practical inexperience, she believes her passion and hunger for growth helped clinched the deal. “I said, ‘here are my skills, here’s what I can bring and here’s what I want to improve on’ and I was elected by a clear majority.”

That was a huge kickstart into understanding the real nitty gritty of audit, and also the charity sector more widely. As a trustee, Morgan has led multiple charity audit tenders, helped incorporate a charity, chaired a range of governance committees and led a large cross-organisation fund distribution board, all while under the age of 24. “That’s experience I wouldn’t have had otherwise and that’s really helped me in my day job at PwC.”

But her voluntary roles to date have also been a huge eye opener in terms of the barriers young part- and pre-qualified accountants face to getting trustee roles, not to mention highlighting a distinct lack of diversity across the trustee and, notably, treasurer community, something that McArthur is keen to challenge.

“The number of times I’d walk into these rooms, especially finance committee meetings, and I’d be the only female and also the only person under 45. That was a big shock. It’s got to be about trying to change that diversity of thought and ensuring that more people are not only welcomed into that space, but truly heard and that there’s enough support for them as well.”

The Young Trustees Movement is trying to raise the percentage of young trustees under the age of 30 from 3% up to 5%. “If the statistics are that low for people under 30 in trustee roles, it’s even worse for treasurers! I understand how it could feel like a barrier to some people, but if all trustees are a similar age with a similar life experience, you’re just going to agree on everything and much needed change won’t happen. Having a different perspective is really important.”

With that aim in mind, McArthur now helps to run campaigns with Charterpath, a Community Interest Company with the purpose of encouraging and supporting accountants to take part in volunteering for not-for-profits. “There’s a lot of people who rely on charity services to get through incredibly difficult times. Charities and voluntary organisations fill the gaps. We’re trying to marry up the two. So that’s part of my life mission now.”

While many organisations offer staff the opportunity to participate in volunteering days, uptake remains disappointing, McArthur says. “There’s so much that accountants can do just for a day as an extra pair of hands, or an extra pair of eyes.”

McArthur senses a real desire among young people to get stuck in: “Coming out of the pandemic and into a cost-of-living crisis, young people want to do something to make it better. I’ve seen a big uptake in people harnessing that responsibility and wanting to make some good out of it.”

But she also recognises the barriers to engagement: “People also have concerns about time commitment. You can fully commit as a trustee, but there are also opportunities to do a couple of days of meaningful volunteering a year. Embrace that flexibility.”

For those keen to find out more or dip their toe in the water, McArthur says ICAEW’s free trustee training modules, which explain the legal and financial responsibilities of charity trustees are a great starting point. Meanwhile, the ICAEW Charity Community offers free support with regular newsletters, webinars and key resources for finance professionals who work or volunteer in the charity sector. 

“Find out what it is that you want to change and find a way to do it – but don’t feel like your

inexperience will hold you back,” McArthur urges. And recognise that the skills that you have are transferable and serve as a foundation to build on. 

“Don't see it as not having the skills to do the job. But recognise that you still have things to learn, which will boost your confidence in your studies and in your job because the two really do help each other. You’ll be really valuable because you have a lot to learn and a lot to give.”

Kristina Kopic, Head of Charity and Voluntary Sector at ICAEW, says most charities are small and cannot afford to employ a team of qualified finance professionals so having a chartered accountant on the board who can help provide strategic oversight and share financial knowledge with the other trustees, is of great benefit.

Kopic started her own trustee journey with a small volunteer-run charity when she qualified as a chartered accountant and has been on charity boards ever since. “I often hear from ICAEW members that they want to support charities, but are unsure if they have the right skills because they are unfamiliar with the charity sector. I want all our members to know that this is not a barrier, that you already have the skills that charity boards need and that we will help you develop your knowledge about the sector.”

Kopic credits her trustee experience with career development and learning opportunities: “In my current trustee role, I chair the finance committee, helped recruit our first head of finance and introduced sound oversight structures and robust financial controls. But I’ve gained much more than I’m giving by working with a fantastic team and learning about the charity’s mission and work.”

  • Small Charity Week (19-23 June 2023) is an opportunity for accountants to support the board of a local charity with their financial expertise while boosting their own experience, learning about a new sector and meeting like-minded people in their area. 
  • Members who are interested in applying for trustee roles can find plenty of opportunities on our free website ICAEW Volunteers, which connects charities with finance professionals.

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