Who are trustees and what are their main responsibilities?

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Figure 1 Advancing the objects or purpose of the charity

NCVO (2015) states that charity trustees are the people who are entrusted to look after money (or other resources such as land or property) given to a charity by a person or group of people. Charity trustees must ensure that these resources are used effectively to achieve the particular purpose for which they were given. Trustees are:

  • voting members of the governing body
  • elected or appointed in accordance with the charity’s constitution
  • almost always unpaid

Trustees also have ultimate responsibility for everything the charity does and in a smaller organisation may delegate day-to-day tasks to staff and/or volunteers. This responsibility is not just at meetings but 365 days a year! This highlights what an important role being a trustee is. In a charitable company, company directors and trustees are the same people.

In thinking about their broader role, there are three essential questions for trustees to consider when governing a voluntary organisation:

  1. Why does my organisation exist?
  2. Where is it going now and in the future?
  3. Are we meeting our objectives in the most effective way?

The first of these questions relates to the impact and public benefit of the organisation; the second is about leadership, stewardship and strategy, that is, setting aims and objectives and priorities as well as safeguarding resources for beneficiaries; and the third is about stewardship and accountability. Again, this shows the importance and contribution of trustees in many different types of organisations in a range of fields.

4.1 The role of trustees