Talking trustee responsibilities

Charity trustees play an essential role, ensuring their charity has a clear strategy, it is well governed, and its work and goals are in line with its vision1.

The past two years have been an extremely challenging for trustees because of the pandemic, as well as increased regulation from the Charity Commission, HMRC and the Fundraising Regulator. Now there is the impact from the war in the Ukraine.

Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) recently partnered with chartered accountancy body ICAEW to publish research on the challenges facing charity trustees2. Their report outlined six key challenges:

  • Financial resilience – Diversifying funding is key.
  • Working together – Trustees can affect the collaboration within charities.
  • Diversity – Achieving diversity in all forms remains a challenge.
  • Support and training – Trustees need more coherent and centralised support.
  • Digital – Charities are at different stages in digitalisation.
  • Sustainability – Trustees want to do their bit towards sustainability.

For those new to the role, being a trustee can be daunting, but equally, extremely rewarding.

We recently ran a webinar on trustee responsibilities for new trustees, or those wanting a refresher to help them understand how they can best support their charity to deliver their charitable impact in the best possible way.

This includes looking at the softer side behavioural duties of being a trustee, as well as the legal duties – which are essential to understand as the role comes with a legal responsibility. From a practical point of view below are six key things that trustees need to do:

1. Prepare

Trustees give up their time voluntarily and may have busy lives, however, they need to spend time preparing and give the role the care and attention it deserves. Always ensure before meetings you have read all the papers and go armed with questions.

2. Build relationships

This is an important part of the role and something that was more difficult during the pandemic when meetings were carried out remotely. Now though trustees should take the opportunity for face to face meetings, as well as going into the organisation and learning as much as they can from the employees. Building a rapport with staff and the management team is a vital part of the role.

3. Listen

This is a really important skill. Often in meetings people can be thinking about what they want to ask, and don’t listen to what is being said. Listen and appreciate the skills and experience of the other trustees, so you can learn from them.

4. Engage at the right level

Trustees are there for direction and oversight and should avoid getting involved in the detail. This can vary according to the size and complexity of the organisation, and it can be easier to do this in larger organisations, than ones that have a smaller workforce. However, it’s important to be proportionate to the organisation. Ideally trustees should try and stay at a strategic level.

5. Be curious

This is vital too. It’s all about asking the right questions and understanding as much as you can about the organisation, so you can provide a constructive challenge. Do stay curious and do keep asking questions.

6. You’ve got to love it

You’ve got to love the charity you are supporting. Trustees give their time voluntarily so being passionate about the cause will ensure you do your best and that the role is rewarding.

As well as the practical duties, understanding the legal duties of the role is equally as important. Trustees need to show a good understanding of their legal responsibilities. It’s not just about compliance it’s about application of best practice.

The legal duties of trustees are set out in the Charity Commissions CC3 document, which all charity trustees should be given in their induction pack. These duties include:

  • Ensure you carry out public benefit
  • Act in the charity’s best interests
  • Manage resources responsibly
  • Act with reasonable skill and care
  • Ensure the charity is accountable

For more information here is a link to the essential trustee: what you need to know, what you need to do.

To find out more about the responsibilities of being a trustee, as well how to run effective meetings, the role of the board and signposts to additional resources listen to our recent webinar by clicking here.