Every charity trustee must fulfil certain duties. As we endeavour to return to some kind of normality, this is the ideal time to reflect on the key duties of every trustee.

It has been great to hear from one of my local charity clients this week. They are finally all set to reopen after a very long 18 months of operating during the pandemic. Their situation reflects that of many of the charities we advise. As life gets busier, this is a good moment to remember the duties you should fulfil as a trustee.

Charity Commission publication The essential trustee: what you need to know, what you need to do is the key reference document for every trustee. 

Here are the five most important duties, which should always be at the front of your mind as a trustee:

1. Act in your charity’s best interests 

It may sound obvious that a trustee must act in the charity’s best interests, but what does it really mean? It includes, but is not limited to:

  • Making informed and balanced decisions on the direction and running of the charity.
  • Avoiding a conflict of interest if at all possible. If there is felt to be a conflict, you must ensure that you are not involved in that decision making process. If your charity does not have an internal conflicts of interest register, get one in place. This ensures you record every potential conflict of interest, which will be vital if you face Charity Commission scrutiny in the future.
  • Not receiving any benefit from the charity unless it is in the charity’s interest.

2. Manage the charity’s resources responsibly 

The not-for-profit sector faces increasing scrutiny from the Government and public. Therefore, it is more important than ever to ensure your charity manages its resources responsibly. This includes:

  • Ensuring spending is only in line with the organisation’s charitable objectives.
  • Avoiding exposing the charity to any undue risk. 
  • Looking to build up adequate, but not excessive, free reserves to facilitate the continuation of the charity. If reserves are high, you should consider investing, but exercise care and get professional advice. 

3. Act with reasonable care and skill 

Trustees are generally recruited to bring specific skills to the table. Ideally, any Board of Trustees will include people with a range of adequate skills to enable the charity to make informed decisions. It is important to ensure that you attend and actively participate in trustees’ meetings so that your expertise benefits the charity and helps the organisation make good decisions.  

4. Ensure your charity is accountable 

At any time, you should be able to demonstrate to the Charity Commission that your charity is complying with the law, is well run and is effective. 

5. Ensure that your charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit 

All charities were set up to achieve at least one purpose. The charity should always follow these purposes and, as a trustee, you should make plans as to how this can be achieved. 

The above list is not exhaustive and, of course, every charity is different. However, performing your key duties will go a long way to ensure you are demonstrating good governance. 

For further advice on this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me or your local Thomas Westcott office.

By Robyn Jennings, Director