How Board-level volunteering programme ‘Step on Board’ is helping businesses develop future leaders

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Trustees Unlimited and the National Council for Voluntary Organisation’s (NCVO) have launched the findings of an independent review of their joint board level volunteering programme ‘Step on Board’, which was led by management consultant Patrick Ballin, the founder of Mile One Limited.

Patrick interviewed companies who have participated in the Step on Board programme about its benefits in relation to employee and talent development and CSR and any challenges they may have encountered.

Launched in November 2014, Step on Board empowers senior employees from the private sector to become trustees and non-executives on the boards of charities and organisations with a social or environmental mission.

Companies including Adobe, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Google and law firm Mishcon de Reya have signed up to programme and many of them participated in the review.

Patrick Ballin said, “The review highlighted that organisations are using Step on Board as a volunteering opportunity, aligned to their corporate philanthropy and CSR goals, but also as a leadership development opportunity, to enable employees to develop their personal learning and enrich their careers. Participants said there were demonstrable benefits in terms of senior talent development and leadership skills, as well as benefits around staff engagement and retention.”

Step on Board is viewed as a route not only to add value to charities by applying professional skills, but as a way for people to gain new skills and develop valuable leadership competencies. In the words of one participant, it’s a “win/win/win” where personal, organisational and community wellbeing combine.

The research also highlighted some challenges. These included the time commitment needed for trusteeship, which can be difficult for senior level people, the importance of matching participants with the “right charity” and the recognition that buy-in across the business, especially between CSR and HR/Talent teams is essential for success, but which many organisations find it hard to achieve.

Ian Joseph, Chief Executive at Trustees Unlimited and Managing Director of Russam GMS says, “It’s almost three years since we launched Step on Board and to date, over 100 trustees have been placed onto charity boards. This review has given us valuable feedback on the impact of this approach to executive development.

“Organisations are using Step on Board to create future leaders. The breadth of challenges and exposure offered to employees who become trustees was repeatedly mentioned by participants, with gaining board level experience and “a healthy dose of governance” also considered particularly important.

“Step on Board is helping people develop leadership competencies such as Emotional Intelligence, accountability and governance, as well as encouraging greater diversity of thinking, team working and understanding of how other organisations work - all of which are highly desirable skills in today’s workplace.”

Richard Williams, director of enterprise & development, NCVO sais: “Step on Board compares very favourably with Board Placement programmes running in other countries, based on quality, value for money and localisation to the needs of the UK organisations.

“The great feedback and review will help us to refine and develop the programme Step on Board this year and we hope to see many more companies signing up.”

The review highlighted three main key recommendations for the future including the importance of ensuring there is an internal alliance between Talent/CSR to ensure the programme develops beyond the pilot phase, the importance of communicating the leadership competencies to HR and talent specialists and the need for businesses to communicate the benefits of the Step on Board programme more widely.

Measurement and evaluation were viewed as being important for long-term success, something which at the moment was still seen as “early days” for most participant organisations.

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