Being a Trustee is an important role. Trustees responsibilities include looking after the well being of their charity in the same way a parent is responsible for a child. A charity needs care and structure to help it grow and fulfil its purpose.
Being a Trustee can be very rewarding, it will undoubtedly teach people new skills, it certainly did for me, I am pretty sure it is where my love of charity governance comes from.
Make sure your charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit
Trustees are responsible for allowing their charity to fulfil its purposes, if these are ongoing then Trustees will need to help maintain the charity to do its work. It is just important that if a charity has completed its purpose then it will need to wound up.
Trustees need to have a clear understanding of the purposes of their charity, these should be stated in the constitution and ideally made available in a public forum, in my opinion, I would seriously consider having them available on the charities website.
Act in the charities best interests
An individual trustee has the responsibility to act on behalf of their charity, this means setting aside personal interests and thinking of the charity first. The first step of this is to record conflicts of interest if there are any. If a conflict of interest exists then be sure to record how any decisions were made and the process that meant that they did not interfere with the decisions made.
“Each one of us breathes, within the conflict of interest, in any case. Realize that, and be honest.”Ehsan Sehgal
Responsibilities of managing resources
Resources are often seen as purely financial. Trustees have a responsibility to make sure their charities most important resource, in my opinion, time, is used well.
Trustees forget that their time and staff time is often the most important resource. Often the space a charity uses is also an asset that is underused.
Comply with charities governance and the law
Trustees have a responsibility that is legal if they fail to act legally in the interests of the charity Trustees are liable for any mishaps. I would recommend reading up about the responsibilities of becoming a Trustee before becoming one. I have found that often people are appointed as Trustees without realising the ins and outs of what it involves. The Charities Commission has a wonderful guide for anyone interested in becoming a Trustee.
Has the charity complied with employment law, safeguarding, data protection legislation, and charity law? Trustees have a responsibility to know this, but also to have policy in place to deal with situations that might arise.
Make sure the charity is accountable
Make sure the documentation that the Charity Commission expects is handed in on time. The accounts and reports are important but they are also a record of the charities achievements.
Any responsible funding body will look up the history of a charity before awarding funds, so be sure to celebrate the achievements and make the most of the opportunity to have the documentation in another location other than the charities own website (also link to it to help with SEO for the charities website).
Act with reasonable care and skill
Trustees who fail to act with reasonable care and skill for their charity are likely to be held to account. A duty of care is the legal term, Trustees have a responsibility to make sure they do not injure their charity by making bad decisions.
Trustees should be able to track how decisions are made, all decisions should fall under the rule of the charity.
Responsibilities are rewarding
Responsibility can be rewarding too, this entry is not meant to scare people away from being a Trustee, but I have often found people to take on the role of Trustee without understanding they are legally responsible for their chosen charity.
Charities often struggle to find Trustees, and I would seriously suggest that Charities consider how they will tackle this, even by trying new things like having co-opted non-Trustee members on their boards/committees so people can gain the experience they need to serve as a Trustee. Think outside the box, and embrace change.