Trustees FAQ

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Here are some of the frequently asked questions about being a trustee. If you can’t find the answer to your query here, please contact us and we will get back to you with an answer.

What is a Trustee?

Trustees, board of directors, executive committee – whatever terms you use, trustees are the people who have overall responsibility for a charity. As well as legal responsibility, trustees ensure a clear strategy, making sure work and goals are in line with the charity’s purposes. They safeguard the charity’s assets and contribute to the management of the charity.  

What do Trustees do?

Trustees are the people responsible for ensuring that a charity or community group has a clear strategy, that it remains true to its original vision, and that it complies with all necessary rules and legal obligations. Collectively, trustees are commonly known as the board, but sometimes they will be known as the management committee or the executive committee. They have a number of formal roles and responsibilities, which include appointing key people and keeping a check on the organisation’s finances and activities.

Why should I become a Trustee?

There are lots of small charities working for diverse causes who could really benefit from the time and skills you could offer them as a trustee. Trustees give direction to a charity and are ultimately responsible for its activities. Being a trustee can also benefit your own career development, giving you strategic experience, professional networking opportunities and developing your team working capabilities. There is even compelling research that shows volunteering can be good for your health!

How do I become a Trustee?

There are various ways of becoming a charity trustee. Firstly it is best if you have a think about what kind of organisation you would like to work with. Is there a particular local cause that is of interest? Then, decide what kind of trustee role you would like. Do you have specialist skills, such as finance or business management? Or do you want a more general trustee position?

There are a number of avenues open to finding a trustee role. You can contact and organisation direct, or search the following online resources.

If would like to discuss being a trustee and find out more about what it entails and the opportunities available, please get in touch.

How much time would I need to commit to being a Trustee?

While each organisation’s required commitment will be slightly different, trustees are usually expected to attend between four and 12 trustee committee meetings per year, including AGMs. You may also be expected to represent the organisation on a sub-group or committee. such as finance or quality assurance, as we as attend regular or one-off events. It is vital that trustees are able to devote the time to their essential duties, so it is worth checking with the organisation what would be expected of you.

What sort of questions should I ask the Charity/Organisation?

  • What are the aims of the organisation?
  • Can you see the organisation’s annual report and accounts, annual review, plans and governing documents?
  • What work you be expected to do and do they have a role description?
  • How much time do you need to commit?
  • Is there an induction and training?
  • Will you be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses?
  • Who is responsible for supervising you and how will that take place?
  • What policies does the organisation have in place to deal with any risk?
  • Would the organisation require references or run police checks?

How do I prepare for the role of Trustee?

In order to be prepared for the role, it is recommended that you do the following in advance of taking up the post:

  • Background of the charity (ask to see annual reports, governing documents and the accounts)
  • What is required of you as a trustee?
  • Meet the chair, existing trustees, senior staff and perhaps some of the people the charity helps. Some charities might invite you to sit in on a trustees’ meeting before you officially join.

What support is available to new Trustees?

The Charity Commission has free publications, which offer in-depth advice on being a trustee, in particular The Essential Trustee: What you need to know. You can contact them on 0845 300 0218 for a full list of publications, or access it via The Charity Commission website. They’re happy to give advice over the phone or in writing about matters affecting the running of your charity.

VODA can support you in a number of ways – by offering free advice and support, training, information and resources. We can also help you to advertise trustee vacancies, develop trustee roles and ensure you have all of the necessary policies and procedures in place to support you.

Would I have any personal liability for my decisions?

A conscientious and committed trustee need have few worries about personal liability, but it is important for all trustees to understand their position. If trustees act prudently, lawfully and in accordance with the governing document, then any liabilities (i.e. debts or financial obligations) that they incur as trustees can normally be met out of the charity’s resources. However, if trustees incur liabilities or debts that amount to more than the value of the charity’s assets, they may not be able to cover themselves in full out of the charity’s property, even if the liabilities have been properly incurred. The Charity Commission therefore strongly recommends that trustees are particularly careful when entering into substantial contracts or borrowings to ensure that the charity has the means to meet its obligations. If trustees act imprudently or in breach of the governing document, the position is different.

Further information on this, and other issues, is available in the Charity Commission’s free publication, The Essential Trustee: What you need to know, what you need to do. It’s 40 pages of the essentials. Short on time? Check out this one-pager, Charity Trustee: what’s involved.

Are Trustees paid?

Generally, no. Most trustees are unpaid, and must not benefit in any way from their connection with the charity. There are limited exceptions to this rule. Further information on this, and other issues, is available in the Charity Commission’s The Essential Trustee: What you need to know, what you need to do.

Can anyone become a Charity Trustee

Trustees come from all walks of life. You can become a trustee at 18, although a few people are not eligible. Organisations often seek a diversity of age ranges and backgrounds to ensure that they are representative of the community they serve. 

The average age of a trustee in the UK is 57, so anyone under 57 is a young trustee.

A study by the Charity Commission has shown that only two per cent of charities have a Trustee under the age of 30. Yet it’s many of the qualities that younger professionals can bring that are most urgently needed in the not-for-profit sector today: technological savvy, flexibility and entrepreneurial flair.

What's in it for me?

Being a trustee is an excellent way to develop your management and leadership skills and gain experience that can help you progress your professional career.It allows you to get great experience of a boardtype position, and to meet some fascinating people who you wouldn’t necessarily come across in other circumstances. You get the opportunity to attend events and develop working relationships with other professionals.

Trustees have great opportunities to cut their teeth in leadership, championing a project, being responsible for a hard-working team, working directly with organisational leaders. Through trusteeship, professionals can develop transferable skills that make interesting differentiators on their CVs.

Do I need training?

Induction and training may be required and will differ across organisations depend on your existing skills. VODA can provide training to new and existing trustees on their roles and responsibilities, both on an individual and organisational basis, as well as various aspects of personal development, Contact us for more information,  

How do employers benefit?

By encouraging staff to take up a trustee role ,employers are supporting their desire to give back to the community. This demonstrates to the workforce that they are an organisation that cares about its workforce and the wider community. The organisation will also benefit from the increased skills and networks their employee develops through their role as a trustee, including management, leadership, problem solving and taking responsibility.

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