An Interview with Keiran O’Neill, young Trustee

3 November 2020 | By Naomi Chapman

Keiran O’Neill, 22, is a Trustee at the National Theatre of Scotland, and New Rhythms for Glasgow. Previously he has held board positions at the Scottish Youth ParliamentYouthLink Scotland, and YoungScot.  

As a young Trustee, Keiran is in the minority – in the UK, those aged 18-24 make up just 0.5% of Trustees. Board diversity (including young Trusteeship) is something that we advocate for and promote at Cause4 – increasing the diversity of skills, experiences and perspectives on a board helps ensure that strategy is set considering numerous viewpoints and removes the risk of an organisation experiencing groupthink and moving in the wrong direction. 

Back in October, he joined us a Guest Speaker for the Trustee Leadership Programme (Scotland) speaking of his remarkable governance achievements at such a young age. For Trustees Week 2020, we caught up with Keiran to hear his views on Trusteeship and how we can make governance more accessible as a practice.  


Cause4: First things first - what motivated you to join your first board?

KON: I was motivated to join my first board (a youth membership organisation) because I was passionate about the organisation and knew my time as a member was coming to an end. I wanted to spend my last year in the charity doing the most I could to help it. There was an election and I was pretty happy to top the poll and become a trustee.


Cause4: It sounds like you had a lot of experience and knowledge that made people vote for you as a Trustee! What is your advice to young Trustees looking to effectively showcase their skills and experience in an application?

KON: My best advice would be to be honest. Talk about yourself and your experiences but most importantly set out what you have to offer. In my experience the two reasons boards recruit is because they have a skills gap or a representation gap – young Trustees are in an ideal position to meet both of those challenges.


Cause4: Once an organisation has identified a skill gap or representation gap, how do you think charities can make board recruitment accessible?

KON: I think a broader approach to diversity would be a pretty good start. A recognition that we all live our lives differently and the normal way of doing things doesn’t work for a lot of people who would be phenomenal trustees. I think the lockdown has shown we can adapt to a new reality pretty quickly so I hope that charities will make the most of this new normal in making recruitment as accessible as possible.


Cause4: If you could decide the new normal for governance, what would boards look like in 10 years’ time?

KON: I would like them to look a lot more like the communities they provide a service to. I don’t believe in that just for the optics of it, but because I believe (and in my own experience, know) that a diversity of thought at a board table can be one of the greatest assets a charity can have.


Cause4: We definitely share your belief that boards that represent their communities are a strength to charity governance – board diversity means a different thing by charity and by community.


Thanks so much to Keiran for speaking to us, and for providing such clear leadership in the Scottish charity sector. You can follow Keiran’s journey on Twitter at @KeiranON, and find out more about how to become a young Trustee with support from a community at @YoungTrustees.

What would you like boards to look like in 10 years’ time? Let us know on Twitter @TrusteeLeaders


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