Trustees are the people who lead a charity. They play a vital and rewarding role that contributes to the wellbeing of those involved with and affected by their organisation. Trustees carry out their duties voluntarily, without payment, because they want to offer their skills, perspectives and life experiences to assist their charity in achieving its purposes. Collectively they are the charity’s board, its governing body setting its strategic direction.
Trustees have legal control over and ultimate responsibility for the charity, so the law places important duties on them:
To carry out the charity’s purposes for the public benefit
Trustees should lead the charity with public benefit as the principal aim, ensuring all its activities, as well as funds and other assets, are working to that aim. They must know what the charity’s specific charitable purposes are, to make sure the right people benefit in the right way.
To ensure the charity complies with its governing document and the law
It’s vital that trustees read, understand and follow their charity’s constitution. Trustees must also be certain that the charity is operating lawfully. Trustees are not expected to be experts in legal and governance matters, but do need to make good use of those who are. Taking advice from charity legal and governance specialists like Burton Sweet is a good way to do this.
To act in what they honestly believe to be the charity’s best interests
Making balanced and well-informed decisions means trustees must consider what will best enable their charity to effectively carry out its purposes. They should be single-minded in this, looking out for any potential conflicts of interest, or loyalties they (or any people or organisations connected with them) may have. Such conflicts can cause significant harm to the charity and damage its reputation. Trustees must act for love of the charity’s cause. Neither they nor anyone connected with them can receive personal benefits, unless appropriate and specifically authorised by law.
To manage the charity’s resources responsibly
When looking after and using a charity’s total resources (funds, assets, people), trustees must be responsible, careful, and honest. Their judgements and decisions should be prudent, by avoiding over-commitment and establishing sufficient safeguards to manage risk. However, it’s worth remembering that trustees should be actively using these resources to achieve positive charitable outcomes. They must be more than security guards.
To act with reasonable care and skill
As custodians on behalf of the public and the charity’s beneficiaries, trustees need to apply their skills and experience as a team. Within this, they should dedicate time, effort and energy to their trusteeship, including preparing for and attending board meetings and taking an active part in discussions and decisions.
To ensure the charity is accountable
Trustees should lead the way in demonstrating that their charity is well run, effective and operating within the law. They must ensure the charity reports publicly in its annual accounts and trustees’ report. These demonstrate what resources it has, how it’s using them for its charitable purposes and what public benefit has been provided. Finding creative ways of providing accountability to beneficiaries, donors and other funders is part of this responsibility. Another part is ensuring staff and volunteers of the charity have a thorough understanding of their roles in delivering the charity’s work.
Need some support?
Burton Sweet has a longstanding commitment to charities and civil society organisations, offering practical, professional and passionate support. We want to assist you, so you can deliver effectively for the communities you serve and show the good you do.
For assistance with effectively dealing with legal and governance challenges, including trustees’ duties and responsibilities, please get in touch with our Charities and Civil Society Legal Manager, Cecile Gillard
For guidance on how best to manage your finances, so they are utilised to achieve your purpose, please get in touch with our Head of Charity Development, Ed Marsh
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