The good summary of charity trustee roles and responsibilities is the Charity Commission CC3 (The Essential Trustee: What's Involved) is key guidance that all charity trustees must be aware of - their role and duties. Charity trustees have 6 main responsibilities:
What Do Charity Trustees Need To Know?
How Do We Do All That? No one would reasonably expect a charity trustee to have the specialist expertise of a finance professional or lawyer (unless you are one), but 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 is the Board going to do about that?
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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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Too often charity 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.
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