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Charity board volunteering as leadership development

Joining a charity board can give employees strategic hands-on governance experience that is difficult for companies to replicate through their internal training programmes

Volunteering is good for you. Research from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) found that almost four in 10 Britons volunteer, with 77% saying it has improved their mental health and just over half (53%) saying it has improved their physical health. Seventy-four per cent said volunteering gave them more confidence and 71% that it gave them new skills and experience.

During a period of increasing pressure on both time and budgets it can still be hard for HR managers to justify employees taking time off to support charities. However, there is evidence that volunteering as a charity trustee can provide benefits, not just to the charity and the volunteer but the business too.

Charity trustees share responsibility for governing a charity and directing how it is managed and run. Joining a charity board can give employees strategic hands-on governance experience that is difficult for companies to replicate through their internal training programmes.

For this reason companies such as Google, EY, British Land, Mishcon de Reya and Barclays have actively embraced formal board-level volunteering programmes to inspire and support their employees to become charity trustees as an alternative learning and professional development opportunity.

Such programmes provide companies with a unique way to develop their talent pipeline and their future leaders. Encouraging employees to become charity trustees can expose them to different working models, new people and fresh learning opportunities. It’s also a chance for many of them to gain board-level experience at an earlier stage than they might in their careers, enabling individuals to fast-track their leadership development and enhance their employability.

I believe that acting as a charity trustee can be as good as any high-profile and expensive management training course. Trustees are learning on the job and the experience is hugely valuable in developing them as well-rounded individuals. They get the chance to see how an organisation is run up close, something that can be difficult for people working in large companies.

In turn employees tend to gain fresh perspectives and new ways of working and they can use their knowledge and experience of working with a charity board in their day job.

Board-level volunteering programmes can also help companies fulfil their CSR responsibilities, something which is becoming increasingly important. Deloitte’s 2018 Global Capital Trends report highlighted that the make-or-break issue facing companies was the need for realignment among the C-suite to focus on business’ evolving role in society.

A culture of volunteering can improve an employer brand and show that a company is actively contributing to society. This is particularly important for younger staff, who have a desire to contribute to society that influences their choice of employer.

More to Give, a report in 2016 by City Philanthropy and Cass Business School, suggested 53% of under-35s working full time in London want to volunteer more than they currently do and this figure rises to 60% in the 18 to 24 age group.

Trustee programmes enable companies to engage with charities in a long-term and meaningful way. With jobseekers increasingly checking out a company’s CSR credentials this can have a huge benefit on recruitment, retention and talent acquisition.

Research from marketing agency Cone Communications found nearly two-thirds of young people won’t take a job at a company with poor CSR practices. They also found 75% of Millennials would take a pay cut to work for a responsible company, and 83% would be more loyal to a business that enables them to contribute to solving social and environmental problems.

With 75% of the global workforce comprising of Millennials by 2025 according to EY, this is something companies will find hard to ignore in the future.

There’s certainly no shortage of opportunities to join charity boards either. The latest statistics suggest there are more than 100,000 unfilled charity trustee vacancies in the UK, with 74% of charities reporting difficulties hiring the trustees they need. In particular they are struggling to find people with financial, digital or marketing experience.

Board-level volunteering programmes offer a triple-win situation for HR directors, staff and charities. They bring ‘real-life’ talent development opportunities, fulfil the company’s CSR ambitions, and motivate staff at work through giving back to a cause they care about.

Sophie Livingstone is managing director of Trustees Unlimited