As I finish my first six months at Peridot Partners, I find myself reflecting on my career, the opportunities I’ve had, and the mentors who have advised and guided me.

Starting as a Sabbatical Officer during a global pandemic was never going to be easy, but the chance to lead on issues that impacted my peers was too good of an opportunity to deny myself. What I didn’t see coming was the amount of responsibility placed into my hands – sabbatical officers emerge as different people from when they start.

This growth is, by-in-large, down to the people who surround sabbatical officers across the sector, and the dedicated staff who work with sabbatical officers to turn their ideas and concerns into concrete policy include:


  • CEOs help navigate the knotty world of university politics.
  • Line managers guide sabbatical officers through the ups and downs of early career leadership.
  • Student trustees offer a view of the day-to-day life of students at the university.
  • Lay trustees provide examples of critical leadership and unite for the cause.

Students’ Union boards – uniquely unique

It is very rare for charities to be dominated by young trustees, and this makes for a dynamic setting. Officers and student trustees understand their organisations and student experience. They bring passion, ideas and knowledge to board meetings, which can often be their final chance to shape a decision made by the Union. However, conversations about finance, engagement numbers, internal recruitment and multi-year strategies can be intimidating to people so early in their careers.

SUs are unique within the not for profit sector – they are complex organisations with complex challenges. Many have commercial arms that provide students with life-long experiences. Others provide the social fabric through sports, societies and clubs that make up their members’ lives; and all aim to represent students, often on difficult issues – ranging from sexual violence on campus and culture change, to curriculum and employability, to teaching methods and free speech.

If you are driven by giving higher education students the skills they need for their future in an environment where they can thrive, why not become a lay trustee?

What is a lay trustee?

A lay trustee is a member of a students’ union board who provides an external point of view, guiding the governance and strategic direction of a students’ union. They are not a member of the university, but are recruited for their expertise in specific areas, such as finance, HR, governance, engagement, commercial or legal. 

Why should you think about becoming a lay trustee?

Lay trustees have the chance to immerse themselves in students’ lives. They can shape the Union’s direction – its priorities, internal practices, and how it supports its members – by providing insight from careers in an array of sectors. Strong boards breed strong SUs which provide advice, representation, and opportunities for millions of students.

Becoming a lay trustee puts you in a privileged position to impact a new generation of leaders. Officers are elected annually, so the chance to watch young leaders grow happens every year. Thanks to the guidance of my SU board, I felt my own confidence grow between every meeting.

Lay trustees showed me how to formulate arguments, win people over, help other people voice their own opinions, and think through possible unintended consequences. Sub-committee chairs gave me a glimpse into HR issues, helping me turn my knowledge of sexual harassment into workplace policy that protects staff.

Ultimately, if these colleagues could ensure the Union was working for its members and draft a 5-year organisational strategy, then I felt I could too.

What are you waiting for?

SUs are searching for lay trustees across the UK. Finance, HR, governance, engagement, commercial, legal – these are all skills boards need.

Some SUs are a great first step, with records of training and equipping lay trustees with senior charity leadership skills. Others are large charities seeking those with prior board experience.

Regardless, it’s an incredible opportunity to give back to a worthy cause and work side-by-side with passionate young people. At the same time, you can gain board-level experience of:


  • Organisational strategy and implementation
  • Membership service provision
  • Financial/commercial oversight
  • Business-critical decision making
  • Young leader mentoring
  • Chairing
  • And more!

Our SU Appointments team have both held hands on roles with students’ unions. We are passionate about what SUs can do for those they represent, and we understand the role that impactful leadership at an executive and board level can do.

We recruit for students’ union boards across the country and are looking for trustees. We start the process by talking to you. We can then pencil in a call, explain the recruitment process and answer any questions you have about a particular position/Union or discuss what you might be looking for more generally.

In the meantime, to register your interest in becoming a lay trustee for a university, please fill out this form so we can get in touch when the right board has a vacancy:


Jonah Graham is a Trainee Consultant in our Students’ Union practice. During his time at university, Jonah worked as a campaigner, a Sabbatical Officer and a Trustee. These experiences gave him a deep understanding of the critical role staff and trustees play in investing in student leaders to ensure SUs can continue to do great work, represent students and change society. Committed to empowering diverse talent to join the student movement and the wider third sector, why not connect with Jonah on Linkedin or send him an email.