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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

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Volunteers’ Week: we need new blood - and a change in psyche - to support Scotland’s charities

This opinion piece is almost 2 years old

Helen Kidd on the value of volunteering

To take inspiration from a well-known Scottish marketing campaign, people make charities. If I could have that emblazoned on a prominent building, I would.

As a lawyer, I spend a lot of my time helping organisations of all kinds across Scotland’s third sector ensuring they have proper policies and procedures in place to work effectively. Good governance is, after all, critical for great charity work.

But those measures are nothing if you do not have the people to deliver them effectively. That’s so important to remember as we mark Volunteers’ Week. Whether a local community-based charity or a major national organisation, it is the team behind it which is its driving force. It is those people who fuel the innovation, passion and generosity for which our charitable sector is renowned.

That brings us to one of the perennial challenges facing Scotland’s charities: How do we attract new blood to groups of trustees?

It’s not easy. Anyone involved in board recruitment will tell you that. I’ve been involved as a board member with two quite different organisations over a number of years now and, it’s not unfair to say that I am at the younger end of the age spectrum when it comes to trustee demographic (and it’s safe to say I can’t quite call myself a spring chicken anymore!). Why is that? It can often be a misconception that trustees need to have a certain level of life experience before they should consider joining a board – but that is not always the case. Leaving a lasting legacy and planning for succession cannot happen if we keep recruiting boards in mirror images of the status quo.

If we are to overcome this, however, many of us need to reset how we think of supporting causes which are important to us and what that might look like – it need not always be about donating money. Joining a board of trustees or an advisory sub-committee, or volunteering to support services of a charity may not be as big a commitment as it can often be perceived. People of all ages, stages and walks of life can make flexible commitments to these organisations in a variety of different ways – and previous experience is not always a prerequisite. We all have to start somewhere – I know I did!

The greater societal good that comes from giving your time is clear. Yet, it’s important to recognise the secondary output - personal opportunity and development.

Becoming a charity trustee allows you to develop skills whilst making new and lasting connections. As increasing numbers of businesses place greater focus on their corporate social responsibility, all of this may even add up to positive career development too.

Many of my colleagues here at Lindsays, at all ages and stages in their careers, are charity trustees. It has been wonderful to see the firm support those commitments and instill a culture encouraging people to consider volunteering.

That psyche change is not just one that volunteers need to consider, but one that organisations should embrace when looking for new recruits.

You have opportunities that make a difference.

And you need the best possible people to bring them to life.

There are fantastic, dedicated trustees across Scotland. But, as we look towards tackling the triple-challenge of Covid-19’s aftermath, climate change and the cost of living crisis, there is no denying that we need to ensure we have the best people in place to help meet those.

Whether in digital transformation, social media marketing, fundraising, finance, lived experience or governance, we need to ensure we have the right skills mix around the table. For most, that will ideally involve a blend of experienced trustees and fresher blood.

The world around us is evolving rapidly. Charities are not immune to the huge social issues people are dealing with. Indeed, they may well be acutely affected.

As trustees, part of our responsibility is to ensure we have the people around us who can help manage the impact on services and fundraising, while retaining staff and encouraging other volunteers.

Being involved in the work of a charity can be a springboard to better things - personally, professionally and critically, for wider society. It’s important that we do not lose sight of that.

If you’ve an opportunity to get involved, please consider it. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Helen Kidd is a Partner in the Charities and Third Sector team at legal firm Lindsays.



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