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What is the role of a trustee?

One of the biggest challenges for charities and trustees, which we only briefly mentioned in our 2015/16 challenges outlook, is determining where trustee involvement should begin and end. This is particularly important for small and growing charities. It is also important to clarify the differing roles of a trustee vs. a volunteer/employee.

Essentially, trustees should be less involved in management and more focused on governance and strategy i.e. trustees must focus on leading the charity and deciding how it is run – but not necessarily be the ones doing the work themselves.

Updated trustee guidance – 6 main trustee duties

The Charity Commission has recently updated its guidance on this [charity trustee: what’s involved (CC3a)] detailing the key duties and responsibilities of trustees of charities in England and Wales. Listed below is a summary of the trustees’ 6 main duties, as highlighted in the guidance:

1. Ensure your charity is carrying out its purpose for the public benefit

2. Comply with your charity’s governing document and the law

3. Act in your charity’s best interests

4. Manage your charity’s resource responsibly

5. Act with reasonable care and skill

6. Ensure your charity is accountable

For more information on the 6 main trustee duties please visit the Charity Commission’s website.

Practical advice for trustees

Simon Bladen, Charity & Not-For-Profit partner at Hawsons, said: “Determining the role of a trustee is a very serious matter for any charity’s board of trustees, but particularly for those small and growing organisations. The guidance provided by the Charity Commission is an excellent starting point, with both detailed and summarised explanations of the trustees’ main duties to the charity. Going beyond that, here is a brief summary of practical tips and advice:

  • Trustees must find a balance between their focus on governance and administering the organisation and the importance of concentrating on strategic issues. This is an issue for large and small charities alike, but perhaps more of an issue in small charities where trustees are sometimes drawn into day-to-day management. Here, effective delegation can be vital.
  • Be clear about time commitments. The trustees’ role goes much further than turning up to board meetings, and includes attending events and engaging with the work of the charity. This helps give context to strategic decisions.
  • Unlike an employee/volunteer, it is essential that trustees think proactively and plan for succession in order to ensure the continued effectiveness of the board. The old adage of ‘failing to plan is like planning to fail’ could never be truer.
  • Make sure you are familiar with the charity’s governing document. This is a document you should refer to regularly.
  • There are a number of benefits that technology and digital communications can bring. Social media, in particular, could be an extremely cost-effective fundraising communication in local or global campaigns. It can also help facilitate transparency through open dialogue with the general public and donors. This digital-age must be led by the trustees. Are you ready?

We hope this advice helps clarify the sometimes blurry line between what a trustee should do and what a trustee shouldn’t do. For more information on the role of a trustee please visit our website or get in touch with your local office charity specialist.”

More from our charity experts

You can find all of our latest charity sector news and newsletters here.

If you are looking for advice in a particular area, please get in touch with your usual Hawsons contact.

Alternatively, we offer all new clients a free initial meeting to have a discussion about their own personal circumstances – find out more or book your free initial meeting here. We have offices in Sheffield, Doncaster and Northampton.

Simon Bladen is the partner responsible for looking after the firm’s legal clients and has worked at Hawsons throughout his career. For more information or advice on anything covered in this article, please contact Simon on [email protected] or 0114 226 7141.

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