1.9 Good Trustee Material
The on-going debate around levels of public trust and confidence in charities has put the spotlight on the role of the Board of Trustees in ensuring organisational accountability.
Whether the issue is about where the charity invests its money or the fundraising techniques it uses, it is critical that the Board is able to reassure donors, service users, funders and other stakeholders that the organisation’s actions are well managed and operate within agreed policies and budgets and within the law.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Nolan Committee, lists seven principles that it believes should apply to all people in public service:
- Selflessness – as a Trustee you should act solely in the interests of the charity. You should not act in order to gain financial or other benefits for yourself, your family or your friends.
- Integrity – as a Trustee you should not place yourself under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence you in the performance of your official duties.
- Objectivity – in carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, as a Trustee you should make choices on merit.
- Accountability – as a Trustee you are accountable for your decisions and actions to the public and must submit yourself to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to your office.
- Openness – as a Trustee you should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that you take. You should give reasons for your decisions and restrict information only when the wider charity’s interest clearly demands.
- Honesty – as a Trustee you have a duty to declare any private interests relating to your public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the charity’s interest.
- Leadership – as a Trustee you should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
If you produce a role description for your trustees, it would be worth including a CODE OF CONDUCT based around the principles given above. It will help new trustees to understand the guiding principles of being a trustee.
In the template Trustee Agreement and Code of Conduct, which you can adapt to suit your own organisation, you will note that in the Agreement section we have included some suggestions relating to the term of office a trustee can serve (No 1) and a section on missing meetings without sending apologies (No 3). Although these do not have to be included, as we suggest in later modules, it is good practice to ensure that the Board is “refreshed” and that you avoid situations of appointing trustees who then never turn up to meetings.
DOWNLOAD Trustee Agreement and Declaration (Part of the Trustee Application Form)
Trustees should be selected for their integrity, their commitment to the work of the organisation and the skills and experience they can offer. Within the Board there should be a balance of skills and experience needed to direct the work of the charity. You should understand the responsibilities that you are taking on and be prepared to commit the amount of time necessary to play an active part in the running of the organisation.
Above all, as a Trustee you must be trustworthy.
Trustee person specification
- Commitment to the organisation
- Willingness to devote the necessary time and effort
- Strategic vision
- Good, independent judgement5.
- A willingness to speak their mind
- An understanding and acceptance of the legal duties, responsibilities and liabilities of trusteeship
- An ability to work effectively as a member of a team
- Appreciation of Nolan’s seven principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership
- Time to give.
Fuller and downloadable trustee role descriptions and person specifications can be found in Module 4.
Would I Make a Good Trustee?
To be a charity trustee is not a position of honour without responsibility; it requires time, understanding, effort and commitment. People wishing to become charity trustees need to think about their skills and interests, and how they fit in with the charity’s objectives. Different trustees will have different skills such as:
- Finance and Fundraising
- Business understanding
- Legal knowledge
- Marketing skills
- Local knowledge
- Skills in planning and organising.
Being a trustee is about working together. A ‘balanced’ group of trustees, with a good mix of skills, abilities and backgrounds will give the widest possible perspective on the charity’s work and direction. What is needed is a combination of:
- Hard skills – legal, financial, management.
- Soft skills – encouraging team-working, problem solving, asking difficult questions, decision-making, communications.
- Values – trustees should be able to demonstrate basic values such as honesty and integrity.
What Can I Offer?
Proactive, dynamic and effective organisations need a successful mix of trustees and a Board which is constantly reviewed and refreshed, to make sure the balance is maintained.
The next two exercises are optional. Both will help you to identify what you can offer as a trustee and the areas where you need to develop or learn more, either as an individual or as a Committee or Board. Both exercises are very helpful for identifying your further training needs and deciding who you should recruit to your committee or Board.
|Exercise 5: Trustee Skills Audit
The subjects detailed on the proforma below are not an exhaustive list. They are offered rather as a prompt to get you thinking about how your experience can contribute to the work of an organisation. If you decide to fill in the form yourself or you get all your trustees to complete it, it is worth pairing up with someone to compare your answers. It is often said that modesty is a national characteristic of the British. Often we are not the best judge of our own character and skills. We may consider ourselves quite weak in a particular area where others would consider us strong.
Once you have completed the Skills Audit, think about what further action is required.
DOWNLOAD Skills Audit (Part of the Trustee Application Form)
This questionnaire looks at the way you work within a team such as a Trustee Board and may help you to analyse your own performance on the Board – how you react to others, your strengths, what you enjoy doing etc. There are no particularly right or wrong answers (though we would not suggest that the answer in No 6 of disagreeing publicly with the decisions of your fellow trustees is good practice!) It may however help you to assess your own feelings about working with a particular Board. It may also aid your understanding of the motivation and performance of other Trustees. If you wish, you could undertake this as a whole Trustee Board exercise.
DOWNLOAD Self Assessment Questionnaire
Based on a questionnaire from Common Purpose, www.commonpurpose.org.uk.