How to be a trustee
Being a charity trustee can be hard work and is usually unpaid, according to the Charity Commission. So why do it? Like many volunteering opportunities, the role of trustee offers the chance to learn new skills that can benefit you professionally and personally. So what exactly do trustees do?
1 What is a charity trustee?
Trustees serve on a charity’s governing body and control the organisation’s management and administration.
You can be a trustee for a tiny local charity or for a large well-known organisation. Many big national charities have multi-million pound budgets. The scope will vary but the role is essentially the same.
The Charity Commission says trustees plan the work and strategic future of charities. Trustees lead in developing and managing staff and volunteers and may also become involved in policy making. Representing the charity in public is another possible duty, says the commission.
2 What do trustees do?
Being a trustee is a serious position. Trustees have ultimate responsibility for the way a charity is run and must make sure it is solvent, efficient and achieving its objectives.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) says trustees must:
*Take big decisions about a charity’s future
*Make sure a charity’s affairs are legal and safe
*Support the head of staff
*Make sure the work of the charity is carried out
*Make sure the trustee board is skilled
NCVO says trustees are obliged to:
*Act in the best interests of a charity’s beneficiaries
*Act together as a group rather than as individuals
*Set aside personal interests
*Take legal responsibility for the organisation
*Exercise the duty of care that a prudent business person would in looking after the affairs of someone they had responsibility for
3 A trustee’s view
Former director of social services at Portsmouth Council Rob Hutchinson, who is now a consultant, is a trustee at the NSPCC. Hutchinson says he joined the children’s charity two years ago because he “liked their approach”.
“After working for local authorities it’s terribly interesting to see how the voluntary sector, which I strongly support, works. It’s great to be able to help the NSPCC understand the demands of local authorities, especially now when councils are under pressure to deliver.”
Hutchinson is struck by the high quality and professionalism of the other NSPCC trustees he works with.“Trustees are important and it’s a big undertaking – you need to understand the agenda, express your opinions, and monitor activities,” explains Hutchinson.
4 Interested in becoming a trustee?
First, choose your charity. Is there one whose work you admire? Or an area of work of particular interest to you? Go online, where you can quickly gather a lot of information. When you’ve narrowed down your search, discover as much as you can about your chosen charity.
Find out if they need trustees first. Then request annual reports and accounts, and policy papers, and the charity’s governing document. You can often download such information from the websites of larger charities. Ask to meet current trustees, staff, and service users. Sit in on a trustee meeting. Find out if there’s any training or support for trustees.
5 Further info
Look up trustee info on the NCVO website
NCVO also lists current trustee vacancies
Trustee info is available on volunteer site Do it
Look up trustee vacancies in your area here
Trustee info from the Charity Commission is comprehensive
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