Seven questions potential charity trustees should ask themselves
Many of us may feel obliged to give something back to society. This sense of duty has often translated into becoming a volunteer or undertaking other charitable work. A popular choice for many has been to become a trustee of a charity, and over one million people in the UK choose to take up the role.
Being a charity trustee involves time, understanding, passion and effort, so before taking the leap it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Trustees occupy a fiduciary position and are therefore held to a high standard of conduct. They must deliver on the charitable outcomes set by the charity and ensure that the running of the charity is effective and efficient. Trustees can be involved in governance, management and operational activities.
With around 197,000 charities in the UK, the Charity Commission’s current guidance is that all charities have a maximum of 12 trustees to carry out duties effectively, including at least three unconnected individuals to prevent deadlock in the decision-making process.
Am I interested in the charity?
The first question you should ask yourself is whether you are passionate about the charity and by extension, passionate about advancing its cause. There is no financial reward for being a trustee so it goes without saying that having an interest in the charity will make your role more enjoyable.
Do I qualify?
You can become a trustee from the age of 16, although unincorporated charitable organisations may require individuals to be 18. Ideally your skills, knowledge and experience should match the post. You cannot be a trustee if you have been disqualified from a previous trusteeship, unless the charity commission has waived this disqualification.
The governing document of each charity can impose other restrictions for example, certain locality or religious denomination, but these restrictions must comply with the Equality Act 2010. You must be a fit and proper person, which is presumed unless HMRC holds information which proves the contrary, and you should undertake a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check.
How do I go about being appointed?
The governing document of each charity will establish who appoints trustees and how they are appointed. You should also be provided with a role description if you’re considering trusteeship. For more general information on becoming appointed, it may be beneficial to read the Charity Commission’s guidance, ‘The essential trustee: what you need to know, what you need to do’.
What do charities consider when recruiting?
Governing bodies may ask the following questions of you as a trustee applicant:
- Are there gaps in the current trustees’ skills and experiences that you fill?
- Are you eligible to act?
- Do they have a serious conflict of interest?
- Have you been disqualified?
- Are you willing to give up your time and interested in the work the charity does?
What will be required by me in my role?
As trustee, you will always have to act in the charity’s best interest and make clear any conflicts of interest you may have. You must also:
- Manage the charity’s resources responsibly and implement financial controls if needed
- Act with reasonable care and skill by getting appropriate guidance and advice
- Attend trustee meetings
- Comply with governing documents and the law
- Ensure that the charity is carrying out its purposes for public benefit as set out in its governing document
Will I ever be personally liable?
For some trustees this is a big worry, and we would encourage you to contact us if you have further questions. The answer, however, is rarely. The Charity Governance Code, lays out the information in more detail, but the bottom line is you would only be personally liable to the charity if financial loss has been caused by improper conduct.
This is because the law does not protect trustees who have acted dishonestly, negligently or recklessly. The law does, however, protect trustees who have acted reasonably and honestly.
How can I reduce my chance of liability?
There are some easy ways to ensure you reduce your liability in the case of an issue with the charity.
- Understand your responsibilities by reading the governing document
- Ensure that the charity meets its financial obligations
- Attend regular trustee meetings and keep proper records of decision making
- Prevent conflict of interests from affecting decisions
- Take appropriate advice when you are uncertain
- Comply with the law
- Consider insurance and incorporating the charity
Upcoming seminar and networking event
If you want more information about becoming a trustee, we encourage you to register for the Kent Good Governance Charity Forum on 6 November 2019.
This free morning seminar will provide the latest updates for charity trustees, expert insight and valuable networking opportunities with other trustees. We also encourage guests to invite colleagues who are interested in becoming a trustee themselves.
The event is free of charge, with places allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.