What Is the Role of a Trustee in a Charity?

by | Feb 6, 2024 | Governance

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Volunteering can be an incredible and rewarding experience. Offering you an opportunity to work with a cause close to your heart, that you admire, and that you have no hesitation in dedicating time to support. The good news is, that you can dedicate your time in many ways, with one of the more influential and in-demand opportunities being as a trustee within the charity.

This role can be varied and often challenging but rewarding…100%.

In this post, we delve a little further into the roles and responsibilities of trustees and how the team at Beyond Profit is always on hand to help.

What is a trustee?

  • How do you know that the activities you’re running for your charity are suitable?
  • How do you know that legally you’re doing the right thing for your charity?
  • How do you ensure that the charity runs in the interests of the people it supports?

Your trustees.

It is a charity’s trustees who not only have the answer to these questions but also have a responsibility to make sure that the answers truly reflect the charity’s essence and purpose.

Providing oversight, governance, and leadership, trustees are volunteers who provide strategic direction, aligning activities with the charity’s purpose to ensure that it is achieving its core mission.

Overseeing the management and administration of the charity trustees soon becomes invaluable to its success.

Is becoming a trustee right for you?

As a trustee, I can honestly say it is a vital and rewarding role.

Vital for the charity to gain expertise in certain areas, guidance, and ongoing support. And rewarding for the individual as we now have a chance to support and shape the work and direction of the charity.

The role of trustees should not be underestimated, as good trustees truly make a significant difference.

In addition, contributing to a cause you care about builds you as a person; you become part of a wider team where you can put your skills to good use. It’s also an excellent way to develop leadership skills and boost your CV.

But there’s more to being a trustee than that nice warm fuzzy feeling when you know you’re doing something good.

Roles, responsibilities, and scope of Trustees

Trustees have a legal responsibility and ownership over certain areas within a charity. With roles and responsibilities including:

Ensuring the charity is delivering on its purpose

The trustee’s role is to ensure the charity’s activities are delivering on its purpose, i.e., it is your responsibility to set the charity’s strategic direction and continually check that the activities the charity performs all support the charity’s mission.

Complying with your charity’s governing document

You must always act in the charity’s best interests, which leads to ensuring that there is a clear line of delegation from the board to the CEO – linking to managing conflicts of interest.

You must govern with transparency and due diligence and understand risk and finance clearly.

Safeguarding the charity’s assets

In this sense, assets are both tangible, i.e., property, and non-tangible, i.e., reputation. Trustees must check and protect all assets regularly. Are the trustees in regular contact with the charity CEO? Are reports and analyses carried out? Is the charity running sustainably? How do you know?

This leads us to…

Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility

Safeguarding applies to all charities, regardless of whether you work with children or adults, and it is a trustee’s responsibility to know the safeguarding rules that apply to your business operations.

Ensuring complete accountability

Reporting is a must for charities; with regular reporting required to meet Charity Commission guidelines, trustees must ensure that the charity collects the correct information and data and reports on these at the right time to show accountability.

Transparency is key in reporting, and we can’t emphasise this enough. There have been too many instances and cases where information has not been presented or omitted, and charities have gone on to face investigations or fines.

Managing finances

This is a big one…it is a trustee’s responsibility to keep charity money safe. Allocating budgets appropriately, carrying out regular audits to ensure they are being used properly, and above all, that every penny is accounted for.

It is also good for trustees to show complete transparency with charity finances, with regular reports, overviews as well as accounts submitted to stakeholders, the Commission, and HMRC.

Making decisions

The good news is there is not one sole person making all the decisions; decisions are made by a board of trustees and carried out by the charity managers, employees, and volunteers.

You must decide what resources you need to carry out the activities to help the charity meet its purpose. How will these resources be allocated?

Working together with other board members and the charity manager, how do you make effective decisions?

Attending regular meetings

For all trustees aren’t involved in the day-to-day running of the charity; they are there to provide support and challenge in a constructive way.

There is also an expectation for trustees to attend a set number of meetings throughout the year, as well as possible charity events and even subcommittee meetings, depending on the size of your board.

This means you will have to dedicate time and be under no illusion about how much time being a trustee can entail.

The role of a trustee in charity

Varied. Rewarding. Motivating. Inspiring. Hard work. Crucial. And every other adjective you can conjure up in your mind.

There is a lot of governance surrounding the roles and responsibilities of trustees when it comes to supporting and working with charities. However, this shouldn’t be seen as a roadblock but more like a stepping stone to further learning.

The Charity Commission provides excellent guides to support trustees throughout their role, and we have various blogs and informational posts answering some of the most frequently asked questions online (make sure to check out our post on `How to form the most effective board for your charity.`)

Becoming a trustee is an opportunity to grow. Grow a successful charity and grow as an individual.  Oh, and the feel-good factor of helping others will always make you smile.

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