Recent research by the Charities Aid Foundation reveals that whilst only two per cent of charities currently have young people on their boards, in fact, 85 per cent of young people under the age of 35 would be prepared to consider such a role. For Sian Edwards, director of The Christian Initiative Trust (CIT), this is a very real issue that needs addressing. Here she discusses what can be done to convert the 85 per cent of young people who have shown interest in getting more involved, into those actually taking up the challenge.
The research from the Charities Aid Foundation raises an interesting point and it would be great to see more young people getting involved in appropriate initiatives. Indeed, I’d very much welcome more entries to our CIT Awards from younger people as these are currently in the minority, but of course this needs to be approached with thought and consideration.
The initial success of any initiative often sits with an awareness of a need that is not currently being met and a clear idea of how it could be. It is often those closest to the issue that possess the necessary appreciation to get an idea off the ground. Put simply, their personal experience equips them with a passion and desire to help that provides the empathy and focus that a new charitable or social initiative requires to get off the ground.
In the case of young people, they’re often part of a directly affected group with close experience of a social problem such as unemployment, drugs, gangs or broken families. This provides them with the vital empathy needed to launch an initiative. Indeed, this is why we place ‘addressing a real need’ centrally to the judging criteria for the CIT Awards.
I believe that young people often have some of the most innovative thoughts for how challenges can be tackled. They bring a fresh perspective, an appreciation of modern means of communicating and reaching new audiences, enthusiasm and of course diversity.
Despite this, we continue to see a lack of young people actually getting involved. Is this a case of them being reluctant to stick their hands up and have their ideas heard, or are established management teams failing to the necessary leap of faith in involving more young people in these initiatives? Yes, young people sometimes do things differently, but the challenge I’d say to any charity is to take a step back and give them the freedom to try some of these new ideas out.
Take a previous CIT Award winner, Stephen Addison of “Box Up Crime” who made his idea a reality and in doing so, changed many lives.
When one of Stephen’s friends got shot, he decided it was time to do something to help keep young people off the streets. This personal experience, coupled with his own Christian faith, was enough to start him on the journey to launch the initiative which runs boxing sessions as a means of keeping young people occupied, out of trouble and doing something that will keep them fit whilst making new friends.
Something that Stephen’s story demonstrates is the impact that young people can have in addressing social problems. We know that young people care about their communities and friendship groups – you only need to look at the ubiquity of social media in their lives to appreciate that. Stephen was given the support to put his ideas in to action, and they’ve been a success as a result.
Whether as the instigator of an idea, or as a sanity check on the board of trustees to review the ideas of the existing team, young people’s involvement in and contribution to charitable and social initiatives cannot be underestimated.
So my call to any charitable or social initiative pondering the involvement of more young people in its future direction and development is to first off try empathising with how they communicate and operate and engage with them appropriately in these channels. This will often be in an online, digital environment which will take some organisations out of their comfort zone. They will then need to work on an on-going basis to better appreciate how to harness the passion and creativity of young people and yes, this will sometimes mean doing things differently and taking risks! Formality and traditional approaches may just need to be loosened in order to adopt a flexibility more attractive to young people.
Sian Edwards is director of The Christian Initiative Trust.