Becoming a trustee can be a rewarding challenge for many. As well as affecting real change within an organisation that does good, becoming a trustee can allow you to network and meet new people, learn new skills, enhance your CV, and much more.
With a recent push to make charity trustees a more diverse bunch in every way (age, background, skills, etc.), there are many opportunities out there for budding, wannabe trustees! But before you make the leap into charity leadership, you should ensure you’re aware of, and prepared for, what’s involved.
Charities are accountable to government in the form of The Charity Commission (as well as HMRC and other relevant authorities) and, as part of the senior leadership team, that responsibility will fall to you and your fellow trustees. In the most basic sense, this involves ensuring that you comply with the law and regulations that govern charities and that you can demonstrate this while working on behalf of your charity. You’ll also be involved in the accounting and reporting that charities are required to do.
The Public Benefit
This may surprise you, but your charity can’t just do whatever it wants! You’ll be responsible for ensuring that your charity operates for the public benefit and, ideally, you should be able to demonstrate the difference that your charity is making. When new ventures, initiatives or campaigns are considered, the trustees will be responsible for ensuring that these are for the public benefit and contribute to the charity’s purpose.
Charities are controlled with a governing document. You should become extremely familiar with this document as it maps out the charity’s purpose, methods, leadership and structure. Alongside your own governing document, there is a vast amount of law and regulation relating to charities. You, as a trustee, will be responsible for keeping up-to-date with current legislation and ensuring that you comply with both the law and your governing document. At a time where charity governance is under scrutiny this shouldn’t be taken lightly; you’ll be responsible for running the organisation appropriately and the buck stops with you!
The Charity’s Benefit
This is more about traditional leadership than anything charity-specific. As a leader in your charity, you’ll be responsible for making decisions, allocating resources and dealing with conflicts, crises and concerns. Every decision you make (or contribute to) should be made in the best interests of the charity. But don’t forget, this also includes wholeheartedly supporting majority decisions that you may not always agree with!
Your influence on resources doesn’t stop at allocation! You’ll be involved in managing the resources, protecting them, applying for more and reporting on their status. Resources include everything from money and staff to collection tins and websites. For all these resources, you must ensure that you manage them responsibly. This includes considering the previous four areas: accountability, public benefit, charity benefit and governance!
Care & Skill
This is about you. You’ll be required to undertake your duties with reasonable care and skill. You’re not going to know everything and everything won’t go right all the time, but this is about doing the best that you can. When your skillset or knowledge falls short, you should seek out advice and guidance so that the decisions you make are the right ones. And The Charity Commission is a great place to go if your fellow trustees can’t help.
This article has been based around The Charity Commission guidance ‘The Essential Trustee: What you need to know, what you need to do’.