Board level volunteering is bringing CSR to life
By Ian Joseph, CEO, Trustees Unlimited and Managing Director, Russam GMS — CAF’s latest UK giving report found that people donated £9.7 billion to charities last year, with 61% of people giving money to good causes. Almost 9 in 10 people (89%) did something charitable last year, up 10% on 2015 and one in six (17%) volunteered.
Many corporates understand that employees want to give something back to society. Some are encouraging their senior executives to offer their time, skills and expertise through becoming a charity trustee.
Trusteeships offer a fresh way to acquire new skills, make connections, gain board level experience and enable individuals to contribute to society beyond the work context. Charities welcome professionals with commercial experience to develop their skills and competencies, strengthen their governance and broaden their networks.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen mounting interest in board-level volunteering programmes from corporates who want to offer upcoming leaders an alternative, relevant and engaging development programme, while also fulfilling their CSR commitments.
In partnership with National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) we have launched Step on Board, a board level volunteering programme that helps employees from the private sector become trustees and non-executives in charities and organisations with a social or environmental mission.
The programme helps individuals become ‘board ready’ and companies including Adobe, Barclays, Google, and law firm Mishcon de Reya amongst many others have participated. To date, more than 120 trustees have been recruited through Step on Board.
Last month, we commissioned an independent review led by management consultant, Patrick Ballin to determine the benefits for companies and any challenges they may have experienced. We wanted to learn from feedback and share findings with other companies considering employee trustee programmes.
Meeting CSR goals
The review highlighted that organisations are using Step on Board as a volunteering opportunity, aligned to their corporate philanthropy and CSR goals, and as a way of providing employees with personal learning, growth and career enrichment opportunities.
It is early days for many of the organisations who have run the programme but they anticipate improvements in their leadership and talent development, competency development and staff engagement. One participant told us, “it’s a “win/win/win” where personal, organisational and community wellbeing combine”.
As well as providing an innovative approach to executive development, one organisation described Step on Board as “the tools to bring CSR to life”. Most organisations started the programme as a community involvement or CSR initiative. They wanted to contribute skills and talents to the community, and see it as a way to encourage volunteering locally.
Many felt that the programme helped them demonstrate the organisation’s social value and made a difference to the world. It is a positive way to contribute to strategic non-profit relationships and for participants to be “in good standing” within their organisation and boost their reputation.
Preparing leaders for the future
The ability to develop future leaders is considered a major benefit. The breadth of challenges and exposure offered to trustees can foster different thinking, introduce diverse ways of working and expose them to “a healthy dose of governance”.
Trusteeship offers experienced senior managers with limited board experience the opportunity to further develop and hone board skills and experience. A trustee placement requires them to get to grips with an unfamiliar environment that involves new colleagues and service users and complex challenges.
Organisations highlighted that many employees who have become trustees increased their Emotional Intelligence, with benefits in improved team working and the ability to connect with others. They also increased their understanding of how whole organisations work.
One young media lawyer, recruited by accommodation charity LHA London after the Step on Board programme, is Alexandra Whiston-Dew from law firm Mishcon de Reya. Alexandra says becoming a trustee has helped her career development because she was taken out of her comfort zone. The charity benefits from her legal skills and understanding of social media and how to communicate with younger people.
Considerations with board-level volunteering
Our review also threw up challenges for new trustees and some recommendations for companies running trustee programmes.
A trustee role won’t necessarily fit neatly around a normal timetable and people really need to understand how much time they need to commit and ensure they can fit it in. Step on Board focuses on charities with an income of between £1m and £100k, whose meetings are generally held in the evenings, avoiding conflicts with busy work and travel schedules.
To ensure that the programme achieves success in both talent development and CSR, the study found that it is vital that these two departments align and work together closely.
Placement also requires visible sponsorship from senior executives and the board. A further recommendation was that the programme must be communicated widely throughout the organisation to galvanise support and enthusiasm.
Matching employees with the “right charity” is essential. Individuals and not for profits should take time to ensure the right fit of skills and interests, even if it seems to slow down the early stages of the process.
The measurement and evaluation of the programme is key to the long-term success, something which now is “early days” for most participant organisations and is starting to progress.
Step on board offers employers a unique board experience programme that can be tailored and blended to align with their corporate and CSR goals and HR and talent strategy. Not only are organisations developing their future leaders, they are contributing valuable skills and talents to the voluntary sector.