Becoming a Trustee

 

Every charity needs trustees and good trustees are a huge asset for the charity. It can be a rewarding privilege. However, trustee recruitment is a two way process. It’s vital that potential trustees understand what they are being invited to do and the context in which they will be acting.

So don’t just be flattered by the approach, make sure you do your due diligence before you accept! Consider not only what you have to contribute to the charity but how you will grow and develop through the experience.

 

What is a trustee?

Trustees are the people in charge of a charity. They play an important role donating their time and working together to make important decisions about the charity’s direction, policy and strategy. They may be called trustees, board members, governors, directors, management committee members or possibly something else.

Understanding the responsibility of a trustee, as set out by the UK Charity Commission (or NZ Charity Service https://www.charities.govt.nz/), is absolutely critical, especially if it’s your first time as a trustee. In the UK charity trustees have 6 main duties. You can read more about them here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/charity-trustee-whats-involved

Questions to ask before becoming a trustee

  1. Meet with the chair or another trustee so they can give you some background to the charity as well as the specific skills and experience they are looking to recruit. Ask what the person you meet with enjoys about being a trustee of this charity and about the balance of other skills on the board.

  2. Ask about the vision, mission, strategy, culture and values of the charity.

  3. Ask how much time is involved for trustee meetings (remember there’s also time to read papers and prepare, travel to meetings and to follow up any actions). Check whether there are other responsibilities you may be expected to take on eg a sub-committee or a role such as honorary treasurer. It’s good to clarify expectations at the outset. My experience is that it usually takes more time than you expect! Is there an assumption about attending other events of the charity?

  4. Check the length of term for trustees and how many terms trustees normally serve.

  5. Ask what sort of induction and training is provided for new trustees.

  6. Look at a copy of the most recent annual report. The trustees report within this document should give you a flavour of the charity’s activities and achievements. This will hopefully be less than 12 months old, though may be longer. The financial reports will give an indication of the financial stability of the organisation. It is important to understand how the charity is funded. If you aren’t confident interpreting accounts ask someone who is to look and comment for you. If you don’t have anyone you could ask refer to http://www.sayervincent.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/ReadingCharityAccounts-SayerVincent-January2016.pdf

  7. Read a copy of the summary strategic plan.

  8. If you are still interested ask to attend a board meeting as an observer. This will give you a flavour of what it’s really like. Ask for some of the recent papers or agendas to see what comes to the board (it will also give an indication of how much reading there is to do!)

Questions to ask yourself

  1. Do I understand the responsibilities of a charity trustee?

  2. Does this possibility energise me?

  3. Do I understand what the charity does?

  4. What do I hope to contribute as a trustee of the charity?

  5. Have I the right experience?

  6. Can I get appropriate training if needed?

  7. Have I sufficient time?  In particular will I need to take time off work for meetings and how will my employer feel about that?

  8. As far as I know can I complete the full trustee term?

  9. Do I sense a rapport with the other trustees?

  10. Take time to weigh up the information you’ve been given and ask God to guide you in your decision.

Why become a trustee?

There are plenty of good reasons for becoming the trustee of a charity:

  • To use your skills, experience and ideas to make a difference to a cause or organisation that you care about.

  • To develop new and transferable skills.

  • To learn how another organisation does things. This could help you in your employed role.

  • To widen your horizons, broaden your experience and meet new people.

  • To learn about corporate governance.

  • To enhance your CV and possibly open your eyes to other career paths.

  • It’s a great volunteering opportunity which in most cases shouldn’t require a weekly commitment.

 

Training for Trustees

Training is essential, especially for new trustees, but also on an ongoing basis. Its good practice for charities to offer a tailored induction for their new trustees.

Other organisations with useful information include:

Additional Signposts:

 

Author & copyright Helen Calder 2018 

Peer reviewed by Alison Grieve