What is a trustees role?

role of trustee in gold, with gold pennies on purple background

What is a trustees role?

Trustees fulfil a vital role in the charitable sector. They ensure that their charity has a clear strategy and how it works meets its goals and overall vision.

Trustees act as ‘guardians of purpose’ and make sure that the decisions charity leaders make are made in the interest of their beneficiaries.

What is required to be a trustee?

Trustees will not usually be involved in the day-to-day running of the charity. This is delegated to the staff and led by the Chief Executive. Instead, they fulfil a supportive, advisory and critical role in charity management. They will support them when they can and challenge them when necessary to help them manage effectively. In smaller charities, they may also have a hands-on role.

Trustees safeguard the assets of the charity, be they physical, financial or intangible, such as its overall reputation. They ensure that these are used for the benefit of beneficiaries. They also work to ensure that the charity is run on a sustainable basis.

Trustee boards tend to meet four to eight times a year. Boards may have sub-committees focusing on particular areas of charity work or specific projects. Trustees may also be expected to get involved with sub-committee work, particularly if they have some professional or other experience relevant to the work of the committee.

Trustees must only act within their powers, and in good faith in the interests of their charity. They must make sure they are sufficiently informed, and take any necessary advice needed to better inform their decision. They should take account of all relevant factors and ignore anything irrelevant. Any conflicts of interest and loyalty should be acknowledged and dealt with.

Charities can strengthen the knowledge and experience bases of the organisation with the appointment of selected people to the Board of Trustees.

The Six Main Duties of Charity Trustees

 In summary, there are six main duties expected of charity trustees:

  1. Ensure your charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit
  2. Comply with your charity’s governing document and the law
  3. Act in your charity’s best interests
  4. Manage your charity’s resources responsibly
  5. Act with reasonable care and skill
  6. Ensure your charity is accountable

How these duties are applied will differ depending on the nature of the charity’s work and its size, but all are guiding principles that all trustees need to be aware of.

Charity trustee requirements

To become a trustee of a charity that is a company or a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) you must be at least 16 years old.

To be a trustee of any other sort of charity you must be 18.

You cannot act as a trustee if you’re disqualified unless you have been authorised to do so by a waiver from the Charity Commission.

Reasons for disqualification can include being bankrupt or having an individual voluntary agreement (IVA), having an unspent conviction for a particular offence or being on the sex offenders register.

Some charities, such as those that work with children or vulnerable adults, will have a range of extra criteria for trustees to provide further protection for their beneficiaries.

For more advice about the role of trustees in a charitable organisation, please speak to our charities advisors at charities@wildercoe.co.uk

Charlotte Willmore
Audit Manager at Wilder Coe
Charlotte has experience in the supervision and preparation of statutory accounts, management accounts including tailored client-specific analysis and service charge accounts as well as the audit of statutory accounts and preparation of Corporation tax returns for companies.