Charity Commission Guidance On Trustee Responsibilities, Rules & Regulations And How To Increase Board Engagement

A simple governance guide to Charity Commission guidance on trustee rules, regulations and responsibilities. Your charity trustee board ultimately make all the key decisions, but may not be around very often and, if you don’t attend meetings, you may see them rarely, so this guide also includes how to increase trustee engagement and participation.

Governance Support For Charity Trustees

I provide charity governance training and consultancy, with 100% of income being used to help fund the CEF.  The fee rate is £500 per day, or pro rata and I also provide a governance review package for £500.  To find out more, contact me on 07595 371 444, or  Details of my experience and skills are in my LinkedIn profile.  

Charity Law: Rules & Regulations

All charities are required to comply with variety specific law and regulations, including the Charities Act, Trustee Act and the Charities (Protection & Social Investment) Act.  Accounting requirements are detailed in the Statement Of Recommended Accounting Practice (SORP).  Additionally, they are also subject to the same laws as other organisations, and regulation by regulators, in addition to the Charity Commission, including the HSE (health and safety), ICO (data protection) and, for some, a regulator specific to their role. 

Nobody can be an expert in everything, but you don't need to be.  You can use the free Charity Excellence online toolkit to health check any area, to provide you with assurance that you are meeting your responsibilities for the many Charity Commission and other laws and regulations.   

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Charity Commission Guidance - Trustee Role, Responsibilities & Duties

What Are Our Trustee Responsibilities?  The key document that all trustees must read and comply with is CC3a - Charity Trustee: What's Involved.  Trustees have 6 main duties:

  1. Ensure your charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit.
    1. There's no legal definition of public benefit, but generally your purposes must be charitable, beneficial and benefit the public or a sufficient section of it.
  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. 

What Do Trustees Need To Know?  

  1. Your charity's objects (its purpose), powers and procedures are detailed in your governing document (constitution).  Trustees must understand and comply with these.  The Charity Commission 5 min guides covers the key issues you need to be aware of.  
  2. The Charity Commission recognises the Charity Governance Code, but it's not part of its rules and regulations.  However, it is best practice for good governance, so trustees should have a reasonable understanding.  This Charity Excellence resource gives you an introduction to the Code. 
  3. You can't possibly know all the detailed laws and regulations that apply, but you must take reasonable steps to do so, including seeking professional advice, if necessary.  

How Do We Do All That?  No one would reasonably expect you to bring the financial skills of a financial director or lawyer (unless you are one), but if trustees simply accept what's put in front of them, they are not complying with the above. Anyone can (and should) ask, is the budget on track, what are the key risks or are we confident we're meeting our legal obligations and keeping people safe?  If the answer is no, or we're not sure, then ask, what are we going to do about that? 

Charity Excellence enables you to ask all the question you need to, including the ones you don't yet know about, and connects you to the relevant guidance, resources and people to help you.

Charity Commission Guidance - Trustee Fundraising Rules & Regulations

Many charities are in serious financial difficulties, yet only 50% of trustees actively support fundraising.   

Charity Commission guidance (CC20) makes clear that fundraising is a board responsibility. It lays out 6 key principles – a very good starting point. 

  1. Planning effectively.
  2. Supervising your fundraisers.
  3. Protecting your charity’s reputation, money and other assets.
  4. Identifying and ensuring compliance with the laws or regulations that apply specifically to your charity’s fundraising.
  5. Identifying and following any recognised standards that apply to your charity’s fundraising.
  6. Being open and accountable.

Many also feel uncomfortable about ‘asking for money’ or may not be able to donate a substantive amount themselves. However, there are so many ways in which trustees can support fundraising, that there’s something for everyone. The key is to find out which ones work for them and then help them do so.  

This CEF resource gives you 20+ ways to enagage trustees in fundraising

Start At The Beginning - Trustee Recruitment

Some charity trustees see their role as turning up to 4 meetings a year, but engaged trustees do a lot more than that, so ensure you recruit good ones. It's a challenge, so here’s a CEF resource on how to do it well, with links to resources and organisations who will help you.

Make expectations clear in your adverts and during the recruitment process. That's not about being demanding, but being open and honest with people about what you're asking them to do. When interviewing, always ask how he/she feels they could best contribute, so you can make sure that how you engage with them, works for them and you.  

Building Board Engagement - Charity Trustee Induction

Include in your trustee application form, space to complete details of their networks and also how to join your social media platforms.  

They should meet not only the chair/CEO, but should also be introduced to others on the team to build a relationship from the outset. If they bring expertise in a particular area, such as finance or marketing, ensure they meet those who lead on these activities.   

And, that they receive your events/activities diary, so they can come along, if they wish to. 

Building Charity Trustee Engagement Is Not A One-off Exercise

Why not create a simple trustee board engagement plan/diary? Some ideas:

• Include an events/activities diary in the board pack and, better still, include it as an agenda item. 

• Or send them invites to events.

• Make a point of thanking those who attend these and explain how their doing so has helped you.

• E Mail your social media links to the Board once or twice a year, asking them to join you, like and share.

• Like and share their own posts about your work.

• At New Year resolution time, send out a list of ideas for them.

• And, when the board carry out a skills audit (annually), include in this an audit of their networks.   

And Requires Board Leadership

Whatever you do, to make it work well, it’s important that the Chair leads by example and encourages other trustees to be engaged and paricipate.  

Some reasons to give them:

• Their contribution has a direct impact in helping you to achieve more.

• It helps motivate staff/volunteers and builds trust and confidence in the trustee Board.

• It helps trustees gain a better understanding of your charity, to help them in their role. 

• It enables them to keep up-to-date on what’s happening, rather than taking up time at infrequent board meetings. 

• It’s fun!

Participation At Charity Trustee Board Meetings

Charity Trustee Boards usually meet 3 or 4 times a year for about 2 hours. That’s about 12 hours a year to do everything, yet too often trustees are given large paper pack-ups, sometimes with little notice and that not everyone can necessarily understand.  

Write your reports like a funding bid. Succinct, understandable, focus on the key issues and action being taken, be emotionally engaging and issue these in good time to give busy people the opportunity to read and consider them properly. Here’s a guide on how to make your reports impactful and less work.  

As part of this, when someone achieves something above and beyond, make sure the Board hear about it and record their thanks in the minutes, so you can tell the individual(s) involved. We don’t say thank you nearly often enough, and it helps them appreciate the work of staff/volunteers and see them as individuals.  And, thank the Board too, when they help you. 

Better still, invite more junior staff to present to the board. It’s good experience for them and their knowledge, passion and commitment usually has real impact in bringing your work to life for trustees.  

Engaging Charity Trustees In Using Social Media

Social media has exploded, but only in the last 5 years, so many trustees still make relatively little use of it.  Any board that doesn't 'get' social media, doesn't have the skills it needs.

Making them aware of your platforms on joining and from time-to-time is a good first step, but often people don’t know how to use them. Holding a fun training event for trustees with staff/volunteers, showing them your work and how to download the apps onto their phones can work really well and also helps them to engage more with the staff/volunteers.  

Alternatively, having reverse mentors, where younger staff/volunteers are paired with trustees, to help them learn can also work really well. 

And having a trustee digital champion, or communications lead, would give you an ally on the Board, to help you to continue to grow that engagement. 

Governance Assurance For Your Charity Trustee Board & How To Achieve Even More

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