Guest blog by Ian Joseph, Chief Executive, Trustees Unlimited
Embarking on a PhD is a real commitment; you have to count the cost in terms of how much time you can commit and you need to be passionate about the subject; a passion that will sustain you when the going gets tough. Sounds very much like the things to consider when becoming a trustee! And all this for no pay.
People become trustees not for a financial reward, but so that they can advance a cause or make a difference with the talents and skills they possess. But what does the role really entail? What can aspiring trustees expect and how should they prepare for the role?
There are approximately 194,000 charities in the UK[i], with just over a million trustee positions. Of these, it is estimated that just under half of trustees are women, and the average age of a trustee is 59 years old in England and Wales and 55 in Northern Ireland. There are also growing numbers of younger trustees, with some 86,000 trustee positions now held by 16-34 year olds in the UK.
Charities are increasingly looking to recruit trustees with diverse skills, from a variety of different professional backgrounds. But as trustees are ultimately responsible and accountable for everything a charity does, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Trustees are the guardians of our charitable sector and it is imperative that they are above reproach and understand their role.
How to prepare for the role
Aspiring trustees need to understand the risks and liabilities involved in the role. There are plenty of free resources available on sites such as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and The Charity Commission that can help individuals understand more about becoming a trustee. It’s also a good idea for them to speak to other trustees about their experiences.
It’s worth them checking if their employer has a policy to encourage employees to take on voluntary roles. Even if they don’t, it’s worth asking if they would perhaps allow a few days off each year. Most employers recognise the value of employee volunteering, particularly at this level.
Some larger organisations including Google, Barclays, Credit Suisse and law firm Mishcon de Reya are taking it a step further and have signed up to ‘Step on Board’ – a board level volunteering programme jointly run by Trustees Unlimited and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. The programme prepares people to become trustees and in doing so, offers organisations an innovative new approach to executive development.
Once someone has decided to take the plunge and has found a charity they want to engage with, there are a few areas of due diligence to consider:
Here are my top ten tips.
- Has the charity filed its annual accounts on time with the Charity Commission?
- Is the organisation operating at a surplus and is this sustainable for the foreseeable future?
- Does the charity have an agreed reserves policy and is this being followed?
- Does that charity have a risk register which incorporates a range of areas and which is reviewed by the board?
- Is the charity incorporated? If not, why has it chosen not to incorporate?
- Do the charity’s governance practices reflect the processes and powers set out in its governing document?
- Do the charitable purposes set out in the charity’s governing document reflect the actual work of the organisation?
- Does the board meet on a regular basis and are accurate records of decisions from these meeting made?
- Are their organisational policies in place which relate where appropriate to; finance, fundraising, ethics, personnel and volunteers, equal opportunities, complaints, health and safety, data protection, safeguarding – and if not, why not?
- Does the charity have access to independent expert advice?
Becoming a trustee is a great way for people to broaden their horizons, work with people from different backgrounds and gain board-level experience at a younger age than they might expect.
The new skills and experiences that can be gained can be invaluable for career development. At the same time being a trustee and giving something back to society can be incredibly rewarding.