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A conversation with Frankie Knight: attracting and supporting young trustees

Frankie has been a trustee of TISCA (The Independent Schools Christian Alliance) for 10 years. She is also on the Council of Dean Close School in Cheltenham. As a millennial on boards, we were interested in her experience as a young trustee.

A conversation with Frankie Knight: attracting and supporting young trustees

How well prepared did you feel when you started as a trustee?

I felt very well supported – but this is different to feeling well-prepared. Both TISCA and Dean Close went out of their way to have face to face conversations with me, to explain why I’d been considered. I think in the back of their minds they knew that I was young and low in confidence, so the personal, relational reassurance and backing was completely there and I really appreciated it. They outlined the responsibilities, but it took me a while to get to grips with what good governance actually looks like.

What do you know now that you wish you had known from day one?

Lots of things! Here are a few of the big ones:

What are the advantages of having younger trustees?

I think there’s a danger that culturally we idealise youth too much and that we don’t respect older people. But, on the other hand, I think that the generational gap is bigger than previously, and younger folk who can bridge this are so important. Younger trustees are also keen to learn – they want to do a good job. Stereotypically, there’s a sense of privilege and excitement amongst younger trustees, so they give their all a bit more. The length of time you might have them on the trustee body is also a positive of younger trustees. Younger folk are also less jaded or cynical – there’s a sense of this organisation can change the world which can be a good counter to the lovely retired folk who have lost something of this.

What do you think those considering being a trustee for the first time are most likely to misunderstand about the role of a trustee?

Younger trustees are likely to compare trusteeship to being on a university society committee, but it’s a much bigger role. If there’s a reputational crisis, you’re implicated. It’s hard work and it’s pretty unglamorous. Younger folk need to understand that it’s largely thankless, unglamourous and that they need patience with the detail. We younger people are ruthless pragmatists, we’re not good at detail: we like the sound bite and the easy win, so I think that the sense of responsibility, hard graft, detail, and that it’s unseen is key, and it separates the goats from the sheep: do you so believe in this organisation that you’re prepared to do that for the mission?

What would you say to encourage younger folk into accepting trustee positions?

Often what stops people is that they have an assumed, unexamined idea of what the role is which they don’t fit with. So it doesn’t come up on their radar, or it’s a huge gear shift to get them to engage with it and understand how they do fit. I think the person doing the approach needs to be clear on what a trustee is and isn’t – it’s not always a grey-haired man who’s retired – but about valuing the outcomes of the charity, encouraging them to reflect on how they’ve benefitted from the charity, or how they wished they’d benefitted from it. I’d encourage potential trustees to prayerfully consider the work of the charity, and to remember that you don’t need to be very senior to be a good trustee. You just need to offer the skills the charity needs, and care about the work.

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As you reflect on Frankie’s thoughts, here are some questions to consider for boards in which you are involved.

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