What is a charity board?

A board is the group that ensures a charity or voluntary organisation:

Boards may also be called management committees, a council of management or board of directors.

What is a charity trustee?

A trustee is a member of the board or management committee. They may be known as trustees, directors, board members or management committee members. If the charity is also a company limited under guarantee, then the trustees are also directors of the charity.

What are the roles and responsibilities of a trustee?

NCVO outline 12 main responsibilities of a trustee:

  1. Set and maintain vision, mission and values
  2. Develop strategy
  3. Establish and monitor policies
  4. Set up employment procedures
  5. Ensure compliance with governing document
  6. Ensure accountability
  7. Ensure compliance with the law
  8. Maintain proper fiscal oversight
  9. Select, manage and support the chief executive
  10. Respect the role of staff
  11. Maintain effective board performance
  12. Promote the organisation

For more information take a look at the detail behind the 12 responsibilities of a trustee.

Why do people become trustees?

Being a trustee can be rewarding and enjoyable. It is a great way to be involved in a community or cause which matters to you. Trustees come from all walks of life and being a trustee can help you meet new people, change your community for the better, learn new skills or use your existing skills in a new context. 

You may get involved because it is a cause or an issue you are passionate about or it may be your life has been touched by the work of the voluntary organisation. You may want to build your CV, have experience of strategy and management or find out more about the not-for-profit sector before making a career change.

Being a trustee can expose you to new experiences and new groups of people. It can present you with new challenges, constructive and exciting ones as well as some more difficult things to overcome. You are part of a team as a trustee and will have the opportunity to add your unique skills and experience while learning from others too.

At its heart, being a trustee puts you at the centre of the action for the organisation you are involved in. The more effective the board of trustees, the greater difference you and your organisation will make.

Who can be a charity trustee?

The Charity Commission provides guidance on who can be a trustee.

At its simplest, most people over 18 years of age can become trustees, but a few are not eligible. People under 18 can be trustees of an incorporated charity, but cannot be trustees of an unincorporated charity.

Those who have already been disqualified as company directors and those who have been convicted of an offence involving dishonesty or deception cannot usually become trustees. For further guidance on eligibility, please visit the Charity Commission.

What skills do I need?

Trustees should have different skills, backgrounds and experience that together give a rounded board. 

Some individual trustees will have specific professional or business skills. Others will bring ‘soft’ skills such as facilitating, team work, problem-solving, or even building the social side of being on a board. Different experiences and perspectives are important and a board that also reflects the people and communities they service will help improve effectiveness.

So an effective board will need a range of skills, attributes and personal experience to enable it to work towards the aims and objectives of the voluntary organisation. The skills, diversity and experience a Board needs will come from a wide range of perspectives including business skills, service user experience, social or family experience, general interests or commitment to the goals of the organisation.

How much time will it take?

The time commitment will vary from one organisation to another and understanding the likely commitment will probably be part of the discussion you have when exploring a possible trusteeship. Your own commitment to the potential role may usefully be tested as you learn about the time commitment. It may be helpful to ask:

What are my legal responsibilities?

Being a trustee carries legal responsibilities which should be understood before taking up a position.
It is worth taking some time to understand these duties and to find out the specific situation at the organisation you are considering joining. If a charity is also a company limited by guarantee then the liabilities of a trustee, for example, are different.

Trustees are not expected to be experts in every area, even with the collective skills and experience of the board overall. They are expected to use reasonable care in their role as trustees applying their skills and experience and involving professionals where needed. The Charity Commission can offer information and advice on both best practice and legal requirements.

The Charity Commission Trustee guidance is your best starting point for more information.

How do I choose a good trustee role?

Becoming a trustee is a significant commitment so making sure you know why you are taking on a role and what is expected of you are appropriate things to consider before you say yes (or no). Each person will have different reasons for considering a role and different motivations in taking it up. These are some points you may want to consider:

Perhaps the simplest question is: Do you want to get involved?