1.4 What is a Trustee?
Trustees are the people who are responsible for the general control and management of the administration of the charity. Trustees serve on a Trustee Board which is the governing body of a voluntary or community organisation.
The governing body is where the decisions about what to do are made. It is the body which is held to account for all the activities of the organisation and is responsible for ensuring that the organisation works properly and effectively.
It is estimated that there are around 900,000 adults of all ages, social backgrounds and walks of life who become trustees and another million individuals serving on management committees of unregistered organisations e.g. small community groups.
Many of them have skills which they bring to the organisation. Others, when joining a group, may have commitment and enthusiasm and in time, through learning and development, may gain the skills and confidence to play an important role in developing the organisation. It is very important that people who come forward as trustees recognise what their roles and responsibilities are.
|Case Study 3: I’m Not a Trustee … Am I?
An experienced voluntary sector employee was asked to become Chair of his daughter’s school Friends Association, which was a registered charity. The first thing he did at the initial meeting of the committee after the annual general meeting was to inform the group as to their responsibilities as trustees. He was met by blank stares to begin with as one of the more experienced committee members informed him that they were not trustees, but management committee members.
The Chair then produced a photocopy of the Charity Commission’s annual return document which had been filled in three months before. Many of the existing committee had signed their names, filled in their addresses, dates of birth and so forth. The fact was that no one had explained to them that they were signing their names as trustees. After the initial shock of discovering that they could be personally liable if the charity got into financial difficulties, they began to pay more attention to the Treasurer’s Reports. The Chair was able to reassure them that providing they acted sensibly, they should not have any problems.
What are Trustees expected to do?
- Trusteeship is about managing the work of an organisation
- It is about giving direction to an organisation
- It is about managing people
- It is about managing finances
- It is about managing resources
- It is about managing yourselves
- It is about complying with the law
- It is about being accountable
- It is about maintaining independence.
Trustees are required each year to provide information to the Charity Commission about their charity. This is done by completing the Annual Return.
“Trustees need to be able – and willing – to give time to the efficient administration of the charity and the fulfilment of its trusts. We recommend that they be chosen on the basis of their relevant experience and skills and must be prepared to take an active part in the running of the charity” The Charity Commission
Later on in the module we discuss trustee roles and responsibilities and important national initiatives such as the Trustee Standards, the Charity Governance Code and, finally, the Hallmarks of an Effective Charity, which was produced by the Charity Commission (CC). Although the Charity Commission no longer publicise the Hallmarks, it is still provides a useful benchmarking exercise.
It can be a challenging role. If something goes wrong the Trustees bear the ultimate responsibility both legal and financial. The role can also be extremely interesting and rewarding, giving the chance to use existing skills and develop new ones. It should be remembered that only Trustees can vote on decisions at meetings. A number of people who are not Trustees may attend Trustee meetings, e.g. staff representatives, representatives from funders or local groups or people with relevant skills and knowledge, but they cannot vote on an issue unless they are Trustees.
If you would like to try this light-hearted exercise, see below:
Being a Trustee can involve a number of different roles. Below are a number of cartoon characters who might sum up, at an extreme level, some of the roles you undertake. Which ones do you think you undertake and do you recognise some of your other trustees and management committee members in these types?
All of the above, at perhaps a less extreme level, have something to offer a trustee board. Even the Pessimist can have their uses as it is likely that they will have an eye for detail and be well aware of potential risks. Take some time to consider: