Being a Trustee

This page is a simple introduction to being a charity trustee for those who are thinking about becoming a Trustee or for those who already are.

What is a Trustee?
If you sit on a board, or committee of a charity with others that ultimately control and decide how the charity operates then in law you are a Trustee. You might be called a management committee member, Board member, director, etc. but in law you are a Trustee. Have a look at ‘What is a voluntary organisation or charity’ to find out if your organisation is a charity. Your organisation may be a charity even if it does not have a charity number (because only charities with incomes of more than £5,000 a year have to register with the Charity Commission and so receive a charity number).

Trustees are usually volunteers and so are not paid but can claim reasonable expenses (backed up by receipts). It is possible for employees of the charity to be a Trustee but there are various hoops to jump through to satisfy charity law. BCVS and the Charity Commission do not recommend that employees are trustees.
What are a Trustee’s legal roles and responsibilities?

In summary they are to:

Ensure the charity is well run, solvent and working towards its charitable purpose
Take ultimate responsibility
Always act reasonably and prudently so that the charity always comes first in decision making
Use the knowledge you have (if specialist) and ask for expert advice if you do not know
Make sure the charity follows the law (not just charity law!)
Make sure the charity follows its constitution
Look after the charity assets (cash, equipment, property, reputation, etc.)
Act collectively
Avoid any conflict of interest

For more detail please read ‘Duties of Trustee’ and the Charity Commission publication ‘The Essential Trustee’.

Why be a Trustee?

It might look scary and a huge responsibility but there are thousands of Trustees in Bournemouth who give their time for free and over many years because they get a lot of satisfaction from the role. Benefits include:

Help to make a difference
Giving something back
Learn, and develop, skills (e.g. strategic planning, financial management, employment, etc.)
Career development
Gain experience in a new sector
Use the skills you have
Develop relationships
Charities can benefit from your skills, expertise, enthusiasm and new ideas
Be fun!

Are there any risks?

By being a Trustee you must comply with charity law (mainly the Charity Act 2011 but also the Trustee Act 2000) which is ‘policed’ by the Charity Commission. However the Charity Commission say ‘a conscientious and committed trustee need have very few worries about personal liability’.

Charities will be operating services, perhaps employing people etc. and so will have to ensure their charity is following laws relating to employment, contracts, health and safety, etc. This is no different to running a ‘business’. Luckily there is a lot of free support and advice for trustees, including from BCVS. Steve Place can give advice to individual charities on legal and good practice and we have a group of voluntary legal professionals, Bournemouth and Poole Pro Bono, who can provide initial and one off legal advice.

There are some basic ways to minimise the risk:

Know what’s being done in your name
Have clear policies and procedures that others must follow when acting in the name of the charity
Always act honestly and reasonably, within the rules of your governing document e.g. constitution) and seek professional advice when needed
Take out appropriate insurance (see ‘Insurance for voluntary and community organisations’)
Incorporation will reduce any financial liability considerably (see ‘Incorporating a charity’) and BCVS recommends if a charity employs staff, takes on a lease or contract or undertakes activities that have a greater chance of litigation should do so.

Most decisions taken in good faith will be covered. Also since Trustees must act collectively then all Trustees must be aware of decisions taken in their name. But if you knowingly act not in the best interest of the charity or illegally you will be personally liable!

Being an effective trustee
Keep the big picture in mind
Always ask ‘Will this help us deliver our charitable purpose and is it the best way?’
Be a participant not a passenger (just turning up to meetings out of habit and not really contributing) or prisoner (i.e. feel you have to be there rather than out of choice)
Give enough time (this will depend on each charity but allow at least a week each year)
Have copies of key documents especially the governing document
Use your skills, knowledge and connections for the good of the charity
Delegate (but be clear, get reports and don’t be afraid to ask or even challenge!)
Keep up to date with what the charity is doing
Be clear about the difference between governance (making sure things happen) and management (making things happen)

For some more good practice guides look at ‘Top 10 Tips for charity trustees’, ‘Essential responsibilities of the board’ and ‘What am I supposed to be doing?’
How to be a trustee?

Each charity will appoint its Trustees in its own way. This will be set out in its constitution or articles if it’s a charitable company. Trustees can be elected from amongst a membership, co-opted by the other Trustees, asked to join the trustee board, appointed by an outside organisation (e.g. the local council or church, or appointed automatically (ex officio) because of the position they hold (e.g. Headteacher, vicar, etc.).

However there are some reasons why people cannot be a trustee:

Under 18s (unless a charitable company or CIO then under 16)
Unspent convictions involving deception or dishonesty
Undischarged bankrupt
Disqualified from either being a trustee or director
Unable to manage your own affairs
If the charity constitution does not allow (e.g. it says trustees must live in the borough)
To find out about charities looking for trustees look at:

BCVS Trustee Vacancy page (being launched on 20 June)
Adverts in the press
Small Charity Coalition, www.smallcharities.org.uk combines advice for smaller charities and trustees. Includes a trustee finder section to advertise and look for vacancies.
NCVO Trustee bank advertises its members’ vacancies and has useful resources www.ncvo-vol.org.uk/trusteebank
Trustee Unlimited www.trustees-unlimited.co.uk recruitment agency, free for those wanting to be a trustee.
Approach a charity you are interested in (look at our Register of Contacts for a list of charities operating in Bournemouth)
If you would like to register an interest in being a Trustee you can register with BCVS using this form and we will advertise your interest to our contacts in Bournemouth.

What should you think about before joining a trustee board?
Get to find out what the charity does, look at their website (including their page on the Charity Commission), read their Annual Report, visit them a few times, etc.
Do you support its aims and objectives?
Check on its finances by looking at their accounts and asking questions about how solvent they are.
What is its legal structure and possible individual liability?
What time commitment is needed?
What can you offer the charity?
Ask about expenses
Ask about induction, support and training
Offer to give it a try before finally committing.

Trustees in Bournemouth

 

In 2014 Bournemouth CVS carried out a survey of trustees and committee members in Bournemouth.

 

It found that they spend aobut half a million hours a year (an average of 12 hours per month each) within local organiations which has a replacement value (if paid) of about £10 million per year. The results of the survey can be downloaded here but the main findings are below:

 

Survey Main Findings
1. Bournemouth’s trustees and committee members spend about half a million
hours a year running local organisations and groups.
2. The replacement value, if this time was paid for, would be at least £3 million per
year (based on the minimum wage) but more likely £10 million (based on the
median managerial pay).
3. Half of trustees/committee members serve on just one committee but another
31% serve on two.
4. Half of trustees and committee members have served for 5 years or less.
5. Trustees and committee members reflect the gender and disability breakdown of
the local population but have less under 50s and those from black and minority
ethnic communities (this is similar to findings across England but better than
local councillors in England).
6. 36% were asked to be a trustee or committee member but 15% responded to an
advert and 15% contacted the group themselves.
7. Generally trustees and committee members understand their responsibilities but
they have identified a need to improve their understanding of charity and
company law, being an employer and trading.
8. Trustees and committee members also want to improve their knowledge of
liabilities, monitoring and evaluation, income generation and conflict of interests.
9. The most favoured ways trustees and committee members want to improve their
knowledge is by using fact sheets, web pages and half day training.
10. Nearly all seek advice and support from fellow trustees/committee members but
they find the web and BCVS the most helpful.
11. At least a third of trustees/committee members are unaware of many BCVS
services.
12. Those who use BCVS services highly rate the training courses, forums, staff and
its monthly update of law and good practice (only available for voting members).
13. At least half of trustees/committee members would use an e-newsletter, fact
sheets, web pages, e-group and half day conferences and training if offered by
BCVS.

 

 

Support for Trustees

 

Bournemouth CVS can offer advice and support through: