Incorporating youth governance: not a ‘one size fits all’ approach

13 January 2022 | By Rebecca Ward

In 2019, Cause4 pledged to support the Young Trustees Movement because we recognised the importance of youth governance for the future of the charitable sector. Generally, it is good to see that more organisations are recognising the need to improve the level of youth governance across the UK. According to the Charities Aid Foundation, despite making up 12% of Britain’s population, 18-24 year-olds account for less than 0.5% of all charity trustees.

However, there are many ways of engaging young people in governance, and what is best varies from charity to charity. Organisations should be considering their wider principles, practice and the culture of youth voice and participation. 

Overall, the goal is to find the best way to foster genuine contributions from young people that feed into all aspects of the running of the organisation. However, we need to encourage organisations to think creatively about how to do this, in a way that will best suit both them and the young people involved. Youth governance doesn’t all have to look the same - there are different structures or methods that an organisation can choose from. 

  1. Young Trustees with full responsibilities 

Appointing young trustees as equals to other board members demonstrates a high regard for their abilities and contributions, and quite rightly so: evidence shows that organisations with young trustees on their board have increased levels of public confidence, better decision making and more diverse audience engagement.

This is particularly appropriate for organisations whose work with young people is essential to their core mission and values. For example, the British Youth Council’s board is made up entirely of young people between the ages of 16 and 25. This is vital to their ability to carry out their vision to see a world where all young people are respected and able to influence the decisions that affect their lives, or on which they have strong opinions.

However, trusteeship is not something that should be undertaken lightly, and therefore this model places a larger burden on the organisation to train young people for Trusteeship appropriately and to support them when they are in a post. We need to make sure that the process of Governance and the culture of the Board is welcoming and that Young Trustees are able to make a meaningful contribution to the role.


  1. Young Trustees with limited responsibilities 

This option is a sort of ‘half-way house’ approach, that aims to embed youth voice at the highest level of management whilst adapting the responsibilities. They may not have the title of ‘Trustee’: for example, the Midlands Region of YMCAs set up a Youth Governance Group which meets six times a year and involves young people in decision making at all levels. This had a positive impact on other member YMCAs: the average age of YMCA trustees started getting younger. 

Best practice for organisations seeking to take this approach is to build a set of responsibilities through consultation with the young people involved. 

Under this model, young people wouldn’t legally be a Trustee but they could be invited to board meetings and co-opted onto a subcommittee of their choice, before being invited to become a full Trustee over time. 

However, this approach carries the risk of organisations appearing to appoint young trustees in a tokenistic way rather than genuinely involving and developing them through all aspects of trustee leadership.


  1. Youth Advisory Panel 

For organisations that are only just making the first step towards incorporating youth governance, a Youth Advisory Panel is an ideal ‘way in’ that has the potential to progress into Trusteeship at a later stage. If you are new to the idea of youth governance, this helpful guide produced by Roundhouse and Arts Council England is a great place to start.

Youth Advisory Panel members may have responsibility for programming events for their peers, planning ‘takeover days’ for families and/or working on the marketing side of the organisation, including social media and blogging. This is a more flexible way of developing young people’s skills and it allows an organisation to build trust in young people before investing in them fully as trustees. Youth advisory board meetings can also be ‘tailor-made’ to suit young people, providing a more informal and comfortable environment for them to contribute.

As with all advisory boards, it is important for there to be clear channels of communication between the board and the main board of trustees. It may be that a member of management staff is able to facilitate this process.  

Regardless of which form of youth governance an organisation may choose to implement, young people need to be made fully aware of what their specific role entails by being provided with a clear job description or terms of reference document. Furthermore, the process of appointment should always be a two-way consultation where young people feel able to ask questions, voice their concerns and access training. Provided this is the case, more youth governance has the potential to benefit charities and young people alike. 


How have you embedded youth governance at your organisation? Let us know on Twitter @TrusteeLeaders. 

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