Trustee Articles

Trustees are volunteers too

It’s often overlooked that Trustees are by law, and by nature, volunteers. Without them, there simply wouldn’t be any charities. However, it is estimated that over half of all charities are looking for trustees at any one time and here at VODA, we are receiving an increasing number of requests from North Tyneside organisations who are looking for trustees and assistance to recruit them.

So in the first in a series of articles aimed at helping groups and organisations understand trusteeship, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions around trusteeship.

What is a trustee?

Trustees, board of directors, executive committee – whatever term is used, trustees are the people who have overall responsibility for a charity (or voluntary organisation). As well as legal responsibility, trustees ensure a clear strategy, making sure work and goals are in line with the charity’s purposes.

They safeguard the charity’s assets and contribute to the management of the organisation.

Who can become a 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 sort of charity. Trustees come from all walks of life, and organisations are often looking for a diverse range of ages and backgrounds on their boards.

Some people who fall under the Charity Commission’s automatic disqualification rules are unable to become trustees – see the Charity Commission’s website for details.

What are the benefits of becoming a trustee? 

As well as a great way to meet new people, develop new skills and take on a new challenge, volunteering as a trustee comes with a number of additional benefits, particularly around career and personal development. You will develop skills such as influencing, negotiation, risk management
and gain experience of strategy and leadership. You’ll also develop contacts and network with new people and organisations and help to steer the direction of an organisation or cause you care about.

What time commitment is required?

While each organisation’s required commitment will be slightly different, trustees are usually expected to attend between four and 12 trustee committee meetings per year, including the Annual General Meeting. You may also be expected to be a representative on a sub group or committee,
such as finance or quality assurance, and to attend regular or one-off events.

Do I need training?

Induction and training may be required and will differ across organisations depend on your existing skills. VODA can provide training to new and
existing trustees on their roles and responsibilities, both on an individual and organisational basis, as well as on various aspects of personal

Take a look at our Support for Trustees section on the VODA website for advice and guidance.

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Trustee diversity

Did you know that 1 in 12 trustees is called either David or John?

In our June 2019 Working With the VCS event – which was held in partnership with North Tyneside Council – we looked at how to work with businesses and the VCS to improve the number and quality of charity trustees in the borough. One thing that kept cropping up was the issue of diversity and how to improve the diversity of an organisation’s board. Following on from this, we’ve put together some guidance to help you get started…

Diversifying your board; can it be achieved?

The short answer is yes, but it will take a whole organisational approach and commitment to diversity to achieve it.

Taken on Trust the 2017 Charity Commission report presents a sombre picture about the lack of diversity on charity boards, highlighting that men outnumber women by two to one and that 90% of trustees are white and older with an above average income and education, 18 to 24 year olds making up just 0.5% of trustees. Whilst charity trustees with an ethnic minority background are around 6.6% which is less diverse than the top 100 companies at 8.2% according to FTSe.

Encouraging Diversity

To achieve this groups must start in the boardroom and be embedded throughout the organisation. Make an honest assessment of how you are addressing diversity and what needs to change to attract more diverse trustees. Put your commitment into action, develop a plan that includes concrete goals, objectives, set tasks and a timeline.

Boards are more likely to focus on an issue if an official goal or policy exists to remind them of what they want to achieve. A diverse board is able to make decisions more effectively by reducing the risk of “groupthink” the psychological behaviour of minimising conflicts and reaching consensus decisions. Including the contributions of people with different skills, backgrounds and experiences, creates solutions to problems that take on a greater range of perspectives.

How can charities use recruitment strategies to ensure diversity in their leaders?

Often people are recruited from similar backgrounds to existing trustees who may recruit people who move in the same circles as themselves, friends, colleagues and existing networks.

There are other things that can be done to improve diversity,

  • Flag that you are looking for people of any age, experience or background, encouraging applicants who may fear they won’t fit in. Make it clear your organisation is open to diversity.
  • Advertise in local colleges, businesses, local authorities, health professionals and other charitable organisations, consider the clients and customers already using your organisation.
  • Use social media and other platforms to promote vacancies this may attract younger people.
  • Consider holding meetings at a convenient time for most trustees, e.g. evening meetings may be more suitable for younger or people who work.
  • Be upfront about the time commitments for trustees and what their role would be.
  • Provide mentoring as part of the induction, pairing them with a more experienced trustee to show them the ropes and answer any questions that they may not want to ask in front of the whole board.
  • Prepare an information pack that includes, the constitution, accounts, policies, a biography of the other trustees and any strategies or planned initiatives.

Your local infrastructure support organisations, such as VODA, can help with advertising for trustees, provide training for trustees and give general advice and guidance about trusteeship. Contact [email protected] for advice and support for North Tyneside VCS.

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Preparing for a new Trustee

You’ve successfully recruited a new trustee, but have you prepared to induct them into your organisation? Creating a trustee induction pack for your organisation and taking the time to ensure each new trustee is given a comprehensive induction will enable them to get to grips with their new role and responsibilities, the organisation and its aims and objectives, as well as getting to know the staff and volunteers.

What should an induction include? 

Firstly, the board should decide who will be responsible for delivering the induction and consider whether there are any training requirements for this.

The ideal induction consists of a pack of useful organisational information:

  • Clear role description and organisational expectations both procedural and behavioural
  • Constitution, Memoranda and Articles of association
  • annual Report
  • accounts and current budget
  • Recent minutes
  • Future meeting schedule
  • List of trustees, staff and volunteers
  • Media platforms and newsletters
  • Business plans and strategies
  • Charity Commission guidance and other relevant policy and legislation that impacts upon your organisation.

Consider who the trustee should meet or what meetings they would benefit from attending:

  • The Chair
  • Longstanding trustee (consider buddying up a new trustee with an experienced trustee for a period of time)
  • another relatively new trustee
  • The staff team (if relevant)
  • Volunteers
  • Service users
  • Representatives from partner organisations, funders etc

What activities would benefit the trustee to observe? This is a good way of getting to know an organisation. Is there any training that the trustee should attend to increase their knowledge of their role or that of the organisation, for example safeguarding, understanding finances (balance sheets etc).

How Can VODA Help?

  • Training: We have a comprehensive training programme, see our website for details, including “Trustee Roles, Responsibilities and Governance” aimed at both new trustees and refresher training for existing trustees. We can also deliver the training to your organisation as a development session.
  • Advice and Guidance: You can access a range of advice and information sheets via our website or you can speak to or meet with our Core Services Team for anything from changing your charity structure to advice funding and governance issues.
  • Trustee Recruitment: Advice and guidance on good recruitment and induction processes. advertise your trustee vacancy with us free of charge.

For further information or enquiries Contact Keith Hardy on 0191 643 2636 or email [email protected].

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Trustee roles and responsibilities

Trustees are the lifeblood of your organisation. An experienced and effective board is able to make informed decisions in order to develop strategy and plans that will provide good leadership to the organisation.

However, many organisations don’t invest in training and development for new and existing trustees. For whatever reason, trustees sometimes feel that investment in their development could take away for the organisation’s resources when in fact it is the opposite!

Firstly, you need to identify the existing skills you have within your board. Your trustees may have untapped skills and experience from previous trusteeships, work or voluntary activity and can help you build a picture of this.

Once you have a clear picture of your trustee board’s existing skills and attributes, think about what’s missing and how you can fill these gaps.

Option to consider:

  • build on the skills of your existing trustees
  • train your existing trustees
  • share expertise with other charities
  • recruit new trustees to meet specific skills gaps

VODA’s Core Services Manager, Keith Hardy, has been supporting charities and organisations, working with their boards to develop their skills and knowledge around the role of trustees and good governance.

As well as continuing this service, Keith is now able to offer a formal half day training course open to any trustees, or those thinking about becoming a trustee. Keith comments:

“Whether you are new to the role of a trustee or an experienced trustee looking for refresher training this free half day course will provide a good introduction. It is ideal as part of a trustees induction programme.”

To find out how Keith can work with your board, please contact 0191 6432626 or email [email protected]

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