Advice for charity trustees

05 July 2018

Charities admit they struggle to hire trustees, we want to promote the benefits of taking up such a challenging yet rewarding role.

Charity jar filled with coins

What does it take?

The role of a charity trustee has many perks but it’s worth understanding how these can vary depending on the size and nature of the organisation. You might wonder:

  • How much time will I need to commit?
  • What expertise do I have that can benefit the charity?
  • What skills will I gain as a trustee?
  • What are the risks associated with being a trustee?

But it’s hard to say because being a charity trustee, your responsibilities are likely to vary for a community group compared with a large charity or a social enterprise. It’s therefore important to do your research and really understand the scope of the role firstly, so you don’t over commit and secondly, so you achieve what you would like in the process.

There are however, some benefits as well as some of the risks that might help sway your decision.

Benefits of being a charity trustee

You may not get paid for your service as a trustee but what other benefits can be garnered from volunteering as a trustee? 
  • Gain experience in strategic planning
    The board of trustees will often form the strategy for the charity. In an ever-evolving sector, not-for-profits are frequently looking for new opportunities and equally face many challenges from emerging risks. You will gain experience managing these risks and creating long-term plans for the charity’s continuing viability. 
  • Develop skills in new areas
    It’s likely that each trustee at your chosen charity will have their own unique skills to bring to the table. Working closely with the board means working as a team and learning from each other.
  • Youth is on your side
    If you’re just starting out, being a charity trustee is a great way to gain experience for your CV. Traditionally the average age of a charity trustee is 59 years old which may be a little daunting if you are younger. However, 51% of charities believe having diversity on a board can benefit charities and so will seek to employ a range of talent from different backgrounds. 
  • Build a network of contacts
    Working in the not-for-profit sector will expose you to new faces and potentially new opportunities, you just need to keep your ear to the ground and make sure you network. 

Risks of being a charity trustee

It’s also important to understand the challenges you might face. So what could happen?
Being a trustee means you’re responsible for making sure the charity is run properly and uses its charitable funds and assets wisely. Also for making sure that it doesn’t do anything to put its property, funds, assets or reputation at risk, and takes care when investing or borrowing money.
And of course, ultimately, for making sure it delivers on its charitable objectives.
In simple terms the risks associated with being a trustee really begin to arise when as a board member, you don’t meet some or all of those duties and responsibilities.
It could be anything from a breach of authority on the Board’s Trustee’s part; or an omission by the Board Trustee; even neglect; or maybe a misleading – perhaps libellous or slanderous – statement issued by the Board of Trustees. If someone feels they have suffered a loss– whether financial or otherwise, the liability can lie with the board. 
In this case, it’s worth speaking to the charity before you join as trustee to see if they have trustees’ liability insurance. Having this cover in place helps to give you confidence when making decisions on the charity’s behalf. Please note- this won’t cover you for every scenario but if you have acted lawfully and made an honest mistake, then you should be protected.