Charity Chair of Trustees And Board Roles And Responsibilities

Charity chair of trustees and committee roles and responsibilities, explained simply, including how long a trustee should serve


This practical guide explains the charity chair of trustees, board and trustee roles and responsibilities, gives you simple Chair of Trustees, Treasurer and Secretary job descriptions and explains the role of charity committees, plus common chair and trustee FAQs, such as how long should charity trustees serve.

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How Long Should Charity Trustees Serve?

How long a charity trustee should serve before needing to be reappointed will be in your governing document.  I varies but is usually 3 years and there may be restrictions on how many times he or she may be reappointed.  The Charity Governance Code recommends a maximum period of 9 years but there is no regulatory requirement to comply with that.


Generally, there are only 2 roles specified in a charity governing document.  The trustees, or directors if a company, and the chair of trustees.   Having  a treasurer, secretary or  a committee is usually optional, unless a role is specified in your governing document, in which case you must comply.

Charity Chair of Trustees Role Description

The chair of trustees shares the same governance responsibilities as other trustees.   The specific role of the chair will depend on the size and activities of the charity and will vary over time as the charity's needs change.  However, the role of a charity chair could reasonably be defined as ensuring that the board is effective in setting and implementing the charity’s culture, direction and strategy by leading the board and focusing it on strategic matters, oversight of the charity’s activities and maintaining high standards of governance.

Charity Chair of Trustees Responsibilities

The responsibilities of the chair of trustees will depend on the charity and its particular circumstances but here are some key ones you may wish to think about.

  • Ensure that the trustee body functions effectively, meetings are led inclusively, and the board carries out its duties.
  • Lead the board in governing itself well, setting the strategic direction of the charity, creating a positive culture within the charity and holding the CEO and staff properly accountable.
  • Monitoring the agreed actions from board meetings to ensure that decisions are implemented properly and in a timely manner.
  • Ensure that the trustee board annually reviews its structure, effectiveness, delegations and key policies, and implements agreed changes as necessary.
  • Build a strong, positive and respectful relationship with the CEO and engage staff, beneficiaries and other stakeholders.
  • Act as an ambassador for the charity, representing its interests and values to external stakeholders.

The Role Of A Charity Treasurer

A charity treasurer will advise trustees on their financial responsibilities, may chair the finance/audit committee and liaise with professional advisors, such as auditors.  In small charities, the role will be much more hands on, perhaps including routine finance duties, such as budgeting and preparation of reports.

The Role Of A Charity Secretary

A secretary is a charity trustee who supports the board, often by taking on the administration and compliance, preparing for board meetings, taking meeting minutes and coordinating/organising other meetings.  Where a charity is a company, the secretary has additional duties under company law
and common law in his or her capacity as a company secretary, for example preparing
and filing annual returns.

Charity Committee Roles and Responsibilities

Charity trustee boards may only meet 3 or 4 times a year for about 2 hours but that’s only about 12 hours a year to do everything. Equally, whilst the Board must always make all key decisions, some of its work may be specialist or niche and better led by a committee.  Charity committees support the Board by providing capacity and expertise, allowing it to focus on the key issues in the limited time it has.

The trustee board may delegate authority, but not responsibility.  Committees should have clear terms of reference and delegated authority, ideally be chaired by a trustee with trustee members and usually make recommendations to the board.  The most common committee is often a finance committee but there can be a committee for any activity that fits the above including audit, fundraising, operations and property.


Our guide to committees and lead trustees - what they do, how to make these work well and outline committee roles and responsibilities for the 9 most common trustee committees.


Here's our guide to the individual roles and responsibilities for charity trustees.


Here's our guide to running charity meetings well, including agenda and minutes templates.


Charity Chair of Trustees and Committees - FAQs

  • Does a charity have to have a chair of trustees? Most charities have a chair and in many constitutions one is required but usually may be appointed just to chair the meeting.
  • What is a charity trustee skills audit?  A skills audit is where the trustees determine the skills and experience, they need and compare it to what they have to determine what additional skills they might need to recruit for.
  • What is the minimum number of charity trustees in the UK? You must follow whatever’s in you governing document (constitution) but aim for a minimum of three unconnected trustees with a good range of skills.
  • What is the maximum number of charity trustees? You must follow whatever’s in you governing document (constitution), but the recommended maximum is 12. Beyond that decision making becomes increasingly less effective.
  • How often should charity trustees meet? There is no specific guidance but charity boards usually meet 3 or 4 times a year but may meet more frequently during busy periods or if the charity is run day-to-day by the trustees.

Charity Trustee Roles and Responsibilities - FAQs

  • What is Charity Commission CC3; the Essential Trustee? CC3 is the key Charity Commission guidance that all charity trustees must be aware of and details their 6 main responsibilities.
  • What is the role of a charity trustee? The role and 6 main responsibilities of a charity trustee are to ensure your charity carries out its purposes for the public benefit, comply with your charity’s governing document and the law, act in its best interests, manage your charity’s resources responsibly, act with reasonable care and skill and ensure your charity is accountable.
  • How long do trustees serve? The length of a charity trustee appointment will be in your constitution but, in general, most charities opt for 3 years, with the option to reappoint.
  • Can a trustee resign at any time? Yes, a charity trustee can resign at any time.
  • How do I remove a trustee from a charity? If you need to dismiss a trustee, the board and the charity must follow the rules set out in your governing document. Trustees may be dismissed through a no-confidence process, as long as this is part of your rules.
  • Can trustees be paid for their time? Generally, charity trustees are unpaid volunteers who may be paid expenses.  It is possible to pay trustees for services provided but usually requires Commission approval and it would be unusual to pay a trustee for simply being a trustee.
  • What is the minimum age to be a charity trustee? You must be at least 16 years old to be a trustee of a charity that is a company or a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO), or at least 18 to be a trustee of any other charity.
  • What is a trustee conflict of interest? There are 2 common types of conflict of interest: Financial conflicts - when a trustee, or person or organisation connected to them, could get money or something else of value from a trustee decision. Loyalty conflicts - other reasons, a board member might not be able to make decisions that are best for the charity.
  • How to manage a charity conflict of interest? To manage a conflict of interest you must follow your governing document but usually, the individual should be excluded from all discussions and this and the discussion details recorded in the minutes.
  • What is a fit and proper person? Charities that want to claim UK tax reliefs and exemptions must meet the Finance Act 2010 requirement that all of the charity’s managers (including trustees) to be ‘fit and proper persons’.

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