Charity trustees are the people who ultimately exercise control over, and are legally responsible for, a charity. If the charity is a company, these people may also be known as directors or board members. The charities regulator provides this definition, and you can see the full guidance here.
Being a trustee on a successful and well governed charity board can be a very rewarding job. The charity and voluntary sector is large and growing, and this is where we can genuinely contribute to societal change and to the improvement of everyone’s lives. Giving your time and expertise to this sector allows you to follow your passions, and to genuinely help and be appreciated.
What do trustees do?
As we have seen, trustees direct and control the organisation. They are ultimately responsible for the success and the future of the organisation on whose board they serve. They normally attend one board meeting per month and perhaps one committee meeting per quarter. However, trustees are always vigilant and alert to the needs of their organisation and are always ready to take care of their organisation in a crisis, or to advise the CEO in times of difficulty.
What do trustees not do?
They are not executives and they do not implement strategy, their role is simply to direct and control. Sometimes, in smaller charities, trustees will carry out some executive duties. These may include assisting with the accounts production or fundraising; but these are not truly executive roles; and ultimately, as the organisation grows, these duties will be taken over by paid employees.
Roles and responsibilities of a trustee
The roles and responsibilities of trustees are set out by the charities regulator here and if your charity is incorporated as a company limited by guarantee or any other type of company, your duties under the companies act are set out by the Companies office here.
The main roles are clearly stated, a director of a company shall:
- a) act in good faith and in the interests of the company;
(b) act honestly and responsibly in relation to the conduct of the affairs of the company;
(c) act in accordance with the company’s constitution
(d) not use the company’s property, information or opportunities for his or her own or anyone else’s benefit
(e) be independent
(f) avoid any conflict between the director’s duties
(g) exercise care, skill, and diligence
(h) have regard to the interests of its employees and stakeholders
Is being a trustee fun?
Yes, being a trustee can be lots of fun, particularly when you are passionate about the purpose of the organisation and its mission. In many cases great charities have been set up by people who are passionate about, for example, animals or children, or the alleviation of an illness.
Being on the boards of such charities nurtures your passion, enables you to contribute to the cause and makes you feel valued and appreciated.
Above all, great boards work well together, they are colleagues; they solve difficult problems in collaboration and ultimately theycan have wonderfully constructive and beneficial working relationships.
What is my next step?
- Find your passions and interests and identify charities in this area.
- Ask yourself how much time you might have to contribute to the charity.
- Research charities in your area, choose the best governed and best organised charity, where you will learn and be able to contribute to the board. Ask them if they have an induction course for new board members to enable you to quickly learn about the charity.
- Get your CV ready, with some indication of your skillset, experience and passionate interests.
- Consider also other voluntary work that may not initially involve being a board member.
Some useful links for your research:
If you have any further questions on becoming a trustee, contact our Head of Governance Advisory Services, Penelope Kenny.