Trustees - introduction
All registered charities in the UK are required to have trustees – volunteers who share the ultimate legal responsibility for the organisation.
The Governance Hub summarises the role and responsibility of trustees as follows:
"Trustees are the people responsible for ensuring that an organisation has a clear strategy, that it remains true to its original vision, and that it complies with all necessary rules and legal obligations."
Trustees should not normally be involved in the day-to-day running of the organisation, but they will work closely with the chief executive and other senior staff.
The fact that they are volunteers means that they should not have any vested financial interest in the organisation. They are the guardians of the charitable interest, ensuring that money given in good faith is used appropriately and effectively.
Ultimately, if a charity misuses its funds or breaks the law in some way, the trustees can be held liable if they were negligent. This is a serious responsibility, but not one that should put you off if you're interested in getting involved with a charity that interests you and getting experience working at a strategic, governance level.
Who can be a trustee?
Anyone can be a charity trustee, although it is unusual for trustees to be under-18 and it is also possible to be legally barred.
Some organisations will accept people for their general abilities, interest and enthusiasm for the role, while others might be seeking specific skills to add to their board. But you don't necessarily need to have previous experience of management or the work the charity is involved in.
It's worth spending some time finding out about the organisation before you apply. Is it a charity that you're keen to put your time and effort behind?
Ask about inductions for trustees – you want to be given a clear explanation of the role before you start. And, if you are a little uncertain, you might suggest a trial period before you commit fully.
What do trustees do?
While it's easy to explain the basic role of a trustee – setting strategy and making sure that the charity's funds are effectively and appropriately spent – the precise nature of the work will vary between organisations.
You will probably be expected to come to meetings every two or three months, and read the relevant paperwork beforehand. There might also be sub-committees and events. Read more about being a new trustee.
The main roles for trustees include to:
1. Set and maintain vision, mission and values
2. Develop strategy
3. Establish and monitor policies
4. Set up employment procedures
5. Ensure compliance with governing document
6. Ensure accountability
7. Ensure compliance with the law
8. Maintain proper fiscal oversight
9. Select and support the chief executive
10. Respect the role of staff
11. Maintain effective board performance
12. Promote the organisation
It might seem a daunting list, but there are around 750,000 trustees in England and Wales and good boards will make you feel welcome and help you to develop the necessary skills.
The benefits of being a trustee
As you can see from the other articles in this section, trustees get a huge amount from the role. They have a central role in the work of the charity and can feel a huge amount of satisfaction when things go well.
Being a trustee can also teach you a lot about how charities (and other organisations) are run, giving you experience in areas such as setting strategic goals, accounting, financial planning, employment practice and recruitment.
As a trustee you can be involved in work that you might not yet have had the chance to try as a paid employee.
There is a huge amount of helpful information online.