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Why would a corporate professional come and work for free, and for your organisation?

Who do you need on your Board of Trustees right now? What skillsets are missing – a HR expert, perhaps someone with digital experience, maybe a marketing specialist? Ideally someone who has working corporate knowledge, maybe from a recognisable company brand, who can bring their bigger thinking into your organisation and help you grow/develop to that next stage further.   I want to pose a debate on the recruitment of a Trustee and suggest some ideas as to how to approach this differently.

Let’s go back to the basics. Why would a corporate professional be interested in working with a charity? I think their motivations for volunteering are broadly:   

  1. to make a contribution / a shared passion
  2. to gain ‘board’ experience for their career journey e.g. becoming a NED, interesting networks
  3. to learn something new

However, what can put off a lot of corporate professionals from applying for a Trustee role could include:

  1. long-term commitment, often a minimum of 3 years
  2. charity perceived to be not commercial enough
  3. charity perceived to make decisions too slowly
  4. not being able to make a difference
  5. not being able to learn enough to develop themselves

Staying on the basic theme here for just one more key point: the driver for most people, on some level or another, is WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) which must hit them both professionally and emotionally. For some, at that particular time in their career, the ‘WIIFM’, their focus will be more about their professional ambitions, for others, their motivation will be more emotional i.e. to gain board experience and build a better network vs. making a contribution to a worthy cause.

In this piece, I want to look at the professional triggers and, to do that, need to provide some quick context. There is a huge level of activity at the moment from corporate professionals looking for NED opportunities. This surge has come from the amazingly successful campaign for women on boards (you may in fact have benefited from that). This campaign did far more than raise awareness about the lack of women on boards and drive women to be more active to put themselves forward to engage and be visible. It also opened the minds of a much younger generation that they too could be a NED. In fact, I would suggest the average age of starting to look for a NED role has significantly shifted from 55 to as young as 40 in recent times.

However there is a recruitment bottle neck – whilst there is a significant increase in those seeking to become a NED, the NED vacancy market hasn’t changed that much. Therefore, if a person is keen to see how else they can develop their skills and knowledge to get better access to becoming a NED in the future, what other routes are available to them?

They could become a governor, board advisor, board observer, board apprentice and, of course, a trustee.

There is now a growing number of commercial boards who are very open to a quid pro quo relationship with a corporate professional. Boards are open to have a short-term expert join them (normally for around 12 months) and, in exchange for their expertise, they will give them commercial board experience to support their future NED career.

Is this a mutually beneficial relationship that a Board of Trustees could take advantage of – a shorter term relationship with a corporate professional where both parties benefit?

My thinking for the NfP and charity sector is that, in order to maximise this influx of professional people, review and assess the list of what puts these people off and see how you could reverse-engineer these arguments to turn them into positives! So, why not:

  • promote your Trustee role as a brilliant opportunity for them to develop their board experience with you to help them with their future NED career
  • offer them a role which will develop their skill sets e.g. finance, sales and marketing etc.
  • offer a shorter-term commitment of, say, 12 months
  • ask them specifically what experiences they want to gain and see how you might be able to help them

As we all know there are some great minds out there which could offer your business some much needed expertise and insights – talk to them about WIIFM!

About Heather White, CEO and Founder of Boardroom Ready and Smarter Networking

Heather White is a boardroom matchmaker, networking & personal brand expert, and founder of the Boardroom Ready programme, answering the question: "How do you get a boardroom opportunity if you have no previous boardroom experience?"

As a networking & personal brand expert, she has decades of experience helping thousands of professionals to network strategically, and for success.