Catriona Patterson is a Trustee for 2050 Climate Group. She was 25 when she was appointed in April 2017, when the organisation became a Scottish Incorporated Charitable Organisation, but she has been a part of the steering group for over three years, and helped formalise their status and transition into a fully-fledged charity. Now 27, she has recently stepped up to be Chairperson.
Please tell us a little bit more about 2050 Climate Group.
2050 Climate Group is a youth-led charity which seeks to engage, educate and empower Scotland’s young people to take action on climate change. Working across Scotland, we have 15 board members, over 40 operational volunteers, 2 paid interns and 1 member of staff, all of whom are young people: everyone in our organisation is aged between 18 and 35 years. We run a programme of activities to support our overall ambition, including our flagship Young Leaders Development Programme, our extensive Leaders Network, our work with increasing youth participation in policy making, and international work with young people in Malawi.
How did you hear about the trustee vacancy? What was the appointment process like?
I work in the third sector and was minuting my employing organisation’s board meeting when one of the trustees mentioned 2050 Climate Group to me as an organisation I should investigate. I did; it turned out they were recruiting for ‘members’ (the organisation was not yet officially constituted as a charity, so it was more of a voluntary group), and I decided to apply!
It was a CV and cover letter application, followed by a solo and group interview. However, I had a cycling accident the day before the interview and ended up interviewing via Skype instead (camera off – it was quite gory)! After a few days of anxious waiting, I got a call from the group asking: ‘How was I feeling after the accident?’ and ‘Would I like to join the group?’.
Although I was initially intimidated by the intensity of the process for a voluntary position, I realised that it was also an indicator of the expectation of professionalism and commitment of everyone involved, and it emboldened me to really think about what I would contribute in such a role.
How was your induction experience to the board? Did you feel well equipped and supported in your role?
Prior to my first board meeting, the Chair and Vice-Chair met with myself and a few other new recruits for a couple of hours, and gave us an overview of the history and present activity of the group. I was unusual in not previously having been a beneficiary of the organisation’s activities (the group had originated about 9 months before with design and delivery of a Youth Climate Summit) and there was lots to learn! But it was a good time to join, as the organisation was about to begin a new programme of work (our Young Leaders Development Programme, now in its third year), and there was a clear role for me within this.
From the beginning I felt there were open channels of communication and support from my fellow board members. I knew none of them before, but I appreciated our shared enthusiasm and objectives. Smaller working groups and post-meeting pub socials helped me to get to know the work and the people.
How has your trustee role benefited your professional development?
During my time with 2050 Climate Group, I’ve taken on various activities and actions as needed: organising events, designing engagement programmes, recruiting staff and volunteers, designing and implementing an IT system for 60 people, running social media accounts, winning funding, managing partnerships and representing the charity in public, in parliament and at parties(!).
As an early-career professional, all of these skills have been transferable to my ‘day job’. I work in the cultural sector, and a varied skill set is very desirable! My employer has been supportive of my trustee role since the very beginning, and they also see the benefit it brings.
For my professional development, it was particularly important to seek out a way to connect with voluntary work that explicitly operates in the energy, climate change and environment sphere: although my ‘day job’ is about the intersection of culture and the arts with environmental sustainability, it’s prudent for me to keep up-to-date with the new knowledge and conversations taking place across other sectors, and in the public and private realms. Through my role with 2050 Climate Group, I get to meet and interact with people at the cutting edge of innovation in policy and practice every day, and they drive me to be better in what I do!
My professional network has expanded exponentially since becoming a member of the group: it’s now rare that I’m at an event or meeting where someone from our board or wider team is not there, or highlighting my work with our charity doesn’t prompt some engagement or connection. This has helped when I’ve been trying to make new in-roads with different sectors or topics, find speakers for events, or even increase my own knowledge on a subject – I’ll know someone who is an expert!
How do you balance your trustee role with other commitments?
2050 Climate Group has a board consisting entirely of young people aged between 18 and 35 years old: often a life stage in which there are many changes in personal commitments. Board members have navigated changing jobs, moving countries, getting married and having children, whilst maintained their commitment to the charity. We try to deal with this as an organisation by having a bigger board than is typical (at present, 15 members); monthly weekend meetings outside of work time (with a requirement to attend at least 7 meetings in a year); and open channels of communication which enable trustees to highlight upcoming commitments which may affect their ability to participate fully.
Personally, I balance my commitments through good time management, scheduling, and making the space for my trustee responsibilities; I’m writing this on a train from London to Edinburgh after a work trip, I schedule calls with our partners during my lunch-hour, and as a charity we host weekly Monday night ‘Doing Dinners’ (regular peer—working sessions at a local pub to provide the time and space to do all those tasks you’ve been putting off!).
Why should an organisation consider appointing a young trustee?
At 2050 Climate Group, we believe young people should be part of the decision-making which impacts their present and future (climate change being our case-in-point).
Boards have a responsibility to be diverse in their composition and to consider the inter- and intra-generational impacts of their actions. Appointing a young trustee can help support these ambitions and benefit the organisation in a myriad of other ways – from bringing in new skills, new expertise, new enthusiasm, new life experiences, new networks and new ways of thinking.
We all have a responsibility to equip younger people with the skills, knowledge and opportunities to enable them to lead in the future (and the present!) and a trusteeship can be transformative for developing individuals, as well as the organisations they join.
What advice would you give to other young people considering becoming a trustee?
For me, my single biggest motivator is my passion for the aims and vision of the charity. Personally, I don’t think it is enough to view becoming a trustee as purely professional development, you have to want to contribute to the success of the organisation and be prepared to take on the responsibilities that this involves. I believe we all have to play an active part in creating the society (and world) we want to live in, and I think supporting the 2050 Climate Group’s work is one of the most effective ways I can help do this.
I would suggest that anyone considering becoming a trustee do a few things:
- Find out what being a trustee involves. SCVO (Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations) and SCVO (Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations)OSCR (Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator) have excellent resources that explain the legal and practical implications.
- Talk to existing trustees. Once you start asking around, you tend to find that there are many in our midst! Community groups, care, and arts organisations are good places to start in your local area.
- Think about areas where your skills will come in useful. Take a look at trustee adverts (LinkedIn, GoodMoves, SCVO (Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations), Arts & Business Scotland are all good starting points) and see what kinds of things organisations are looking for, and how your experiences could help support this. Knowledge, skills, participation in similar programmes or activities are all valuable, as are more traditional ‘hard skills’ like Finance, Law and HR.
- Approach organisations you think would benefit from having a young person (you!) on their board. Some boards won’t know they need a young trustee until they are asked, and they might be particularly enthused by an individual ambitious and passionate enough to approach them directly.