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What is a Trustee of a Charity?

A trustee is a person who is legally responsible for the control, management and administration of a charity. Trustees ensure that a charity is doing what it is set up to do, that it is operating within its charitable purposes and its beneficiaries are being fully supported. They do this by setting goals, securing and allocating funds and organising resources.


Trustees are essential for leading and managing a charity to success. This is a big responsibility that involves many roles. Let’s delve deeper to answer the question: ‘what is a trustee of a charity?’


What is a Charity Trustee?

All charities will have a mission statement that outlines its purpose and goals. To ensure these goals are met, a trustee juggles many tasks. They look after important elements such as strategy, assets, finance and even hands-on roles depending on the size of the charity.


Trustees will have a range of skills, expertise and valuable experience that they can bring to a charity, for example they may have financial expertise, be tech savvy or have experience running their own business. Mainly, trustees exist to ensure their charity has a clear strategy to follow. This way, a charity guarantees its work is always aligned with its overall mission and vision.


Not only does a trustee have to account for the entire charity, they must also account for the needs of its beneficiaries. For the charity, a trustee will safeguard all assets - both physical (e.g. property) and intangible (e.g. reputation). For beneficiaries, they will constantly examine the impact of the charity’s work, and how this is fulfilling its purpose.


While this is a vital role, trustees are not always involved in the day-to-day running of the charity. In fact, trustee board meetings happen 4-8 times a year to review the current and future output of charity projects. Depending on the charity, some boards will have subcommittees that focus on particular areas of work.


board meeting with charity trustees
A charity trustee has many responsibilities - from looking after people, finance and operations. Image credit: Unsplash

The Many Roles of a Trustee

As you may have gathered, a trustee’s job is multifaceted but here are five key roles that every trustee must be able to fulfil.


Always Ensuring Public Benefit

To always ensure public benefit, a trustee will continuously examine the charity’s capacity and predicted outcomes. They are realistic, setting out what the charity can and cannot do within its purposes and parameters. This way, they always ensure that the charity is benefiting the public to the best of its ability.


Complying With the Law

Every business must abide by the law and for charities it's no different.


As the law is ever-changing to reflect the times we live in, trustees must remain on top of any amendments to legislation that affects the charity. At present, all charities must comply with:

  • Charities Act 2011

  • Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016

  • Trustees Acts 1925 and 2000

  • Charity Commission regulation

  • Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP)

  • Laws on trading, political activities and fundraising

In addition to the above charity laws, there is a legal requirement for a charity to compy with its governing document. A charity’s governing document is a legal rule book covering how the charity is run, including its structure, name, staff and purposes. This is a vital guide for staff of all levels to refer to who are working towards the same goal on behalf of the charity.


For trustees, core compliance tasks will involve staying up-to-date with documents, accounts and any changes to the charity’s registration details.


Acting in the Charity’s Best Interests

As previously mentioned, a trustee is responsible for the charity, and those involved in both the running and receipt of the charity’s services.


Thus, any decision-making must always consider the charity’s best interests. Due to its importance, the trustee may have to conduct both secondary and primary research. This could involve speaking to service users, volunteers and board members through a variety of mediums. By doing this, a trustee can be sure that they are making balanced, informed decisions on behalf of the charity.


On top of this, a trustee may have to also deal with conflicts of interest, being challenged on certain choices, and accepting majority decisions. As long as the charity’s mission is being met within the parameters of the law, a trustee can be confident that they are fulfilling their role.


Managing Resources Responsibly

A trustee must be able to manage resources as best they can. This can involve anything from assessing risks, protecting assets and allocating people to certain tasks.


Mainly, the goal will be getting the resources the charity needs to succeed. This could be anything from staff to provide services, to even a venue for a fundraising event.


Many trustees will have a process in place for delegating such jobs. For example, a charity may have procedures in place to document the progress of a certain task. This means that the trustee can easily oversee the project without having to interfere too much. This way, a trustee can supervise multiple projects, as they can trust that staff, volunteers and service users are being responsibly managed.


Maintaining Accountability

As charities receive money through grants, fundraising and donations, it is therefore vital that a trustee is always able to account for what this funding has gone towards.


Besides financial accountability, a trustee must ensure that the charity is always meeting legal accounting and reporting requirements.


Maintaining accountability of the people involved in the charity is also key. This can mean ensuring that staff and volunteers are accountable to the board, beneficiaries as well as the law.


So, what is a trustee of a charity? To put it simply, a trustee is the critical leader of the charity. They keep everything in check, especially when it comes to meeting the needs of the law, the public and the charity itself.


If you are a trustee and need advice, speak to S3 Solutions today.