Maya Ophelia, Content Marketing Manager at WB Directors, shares her insights and tips on being a young trustee.

Joining a board in my twenties with no senior leadership experience was quite daunting. Although I managed the occasional intern, I had previously only worked as an assistant, so becoming a board member was a pretty big leap!

I serve on the board at the Forward Arts Foundation, a poetry charity responsible for National Poetry Day and the Forward Prizes for Poetry. I saw in their newsletter that they were looking for new trustees, with two positions available for candidates under 30. I had a background in the arts sector and have always enjoyed poetry and creative writing, but they were looking for passion and potential rather than experience. They provided training and mentoring, and it’s been a great start to my board career.

Traditionally, being a board member was seen as a role for those with more experience and seniority in their careers. However, times have changed, and organisations need to embrace diversity at all levels, especially at the top, to reflect the diverse communities they serve.

Including younger voices on a board can bring fresh perspectives, varied lived experiences and innovative ideas.

For those contemplating a similar leap, here are a few tips I’ve learned from my own experience:

Ask questions. From the application stage to fulfilling the role, curiosity is key. What are they looking for in a board member? What’s expected of you? Do their values align with yours? If you’ve never seen a P&L statement, ask for a finance session (and take our Financial Literacy online course). If you’d like a board buddy, ask for one. By asking questions, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the organisation’s mission, vision, and values, which will help you contribute to its success.

Understand the role. As a trustee, it’s essential to understand the responsibilities and expectations, as you need to be clear on what you’re getting yourself into. Speak to fellow board members and familiarise yourself with governing documents and legal obligations. There are plenty of resources available if you need further guidance. The Charity Commission has advice on everything you need to know about being a trustee. Women on Boards offers online courses and networking events to help enhance your knowledge and gain valuable insights from others.

Stop comparing yourself to others. It’s natural to feel intimidated if you’re the youngest or least experienced person on the board, but you’re there for a reason. Your unique perspective and fresh ideas make your contributions as valuable as your colleagues. Don’t be afraid to speak up.

Be committed. You chose to be on a board and you need to take your responsibilities seriously. Don’t skim-read the papers 10 minutes before the meeting; give yourself sufficient time to review them so you can actively participate and engage. Make sure you’re aware of any additional commitments and are willing to spare the extra time.

Don’t rush into it. Like any new experience, being on a board takes time. Be patient with yourself because you won’t know all the answers right away. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but in the long run, you’ll be grateful you took the time to do it right.

Joining a board at a young age can feel nerve-wracking, but it’s a great learning opportunity that will benefit your personal and professional growth. Seek mentorship, embrace new experiences, and enjoy the journey!

Check out our Vacancy Board for trustee positions and browse through our Resource Centre for more helpful tips on developing your board career.