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Charity trustee role and responsibilities

Overview of trustees’duties and responsibilities.

Overview

The role of charity trustees is to run the charity. They are responsible for the general control and management of the charity. Charity trustees may have a different title according to how the charity is constituted, e.g. members of the management committee or board of management; governors; or directors; but in all cases they have ultimate responsibility for directing the affairs of a charity, and ensuring that it is solvent, well-run, and delivers the charitable outcomes for the benefit of the public for which it has been set up.

Duty and responsibilities

Charity trustees are part of the governing body of the charity. Being a charity trustee gives you an opportunity to use your skills, experience and knowledge for the benefit of charity and can also offer you ways to develop new skills.

The duties and responsibilities of charity trustees can be summarised into 3 key areas:

Ensuring compliance

Trustees must:

  • Ensure that the charity complies with charity law, and with the requirements of the Charity Commission as regulator; in particular ensure that the charity prepares reports on what it has achieved and Annual Returns and accounts as required by law.
  • Ensure that the charity does not breach any of the requirements or rules set out in its governing document and that it remains true to the charitable purpose and objects set out there.
  • Comply with the requirements of other legislation and other regulators (if any) which govern the activities of the charity.
  • Act with integrity and avoid any personal conflicts of interest or misuse of charity funds or assets.

Duty of prudence

Trustees must:

  • Ensure that the charity is and will remain solvent.
  • Use charitable funds and assets reasonably, and only in furtherance of the charity's objects.
  • Avoid undertaking activities that might place the charity's endowment, funds, assets or reputation at undue risk.
  • Take special care when investing the funds of the charity, or borrowing funds for the charity to use.

Duty of care

Trustees must:

  • Use reasonable care and skill in their work as trustees, using their personal skills and experience as needed to ensure that the charity is well-run and efficient.
  • Consider getting external professional advice on all matters where there may be material risk to the charity, or where the trustees may be in breach of their duties.

Further information on the responsibilities and duties of charity trustees is available in the Charity Commission's Essential Trustee publication. The Charity Commission also provides a number of publications on good governance that are relevant to trustees, for example Good Governance: a Code for the Voluntary and Community Sector and Charities and Meetings.

Expenses

According to charity law, trustees cannot receive direct or indirect benefit from a charity unless authorised by the charity’s governing document, legislation or the Charity Commission. The key principle behind trusteeship is that it is an unpaid role for the benefit of the charity and society at large. However, trustees are entitled to claim expenses associated with their role as trustees such as travel expenses associated with trustee business, including attendance at meetings.

On very rare occasions, trustees can be paid for the supply of services to the charity or for acting as a trustee as outlined in the Charity Commission’s guidance. Trustee expenses and payments (CC11). Other useful guidance by the Commission includesReporting of trustees' expenses in annual accounts and controls over expenses and guidance on Conflicts of interest to help trustees identify and manage potential conflicts of interest.

Commitment

Time commitment varies according to the size and activities of the charity. As a general rule, smaller charities will usually involve trustees in both operational and strategic issues, whereas trustees of larger charities will focus more on strategic matters. So, before you accept an appointment as a trustee, it might be worth asking for more information on:

  • the charity’s objectives, plans and challenges;
  • the leadership, governance structure and effectiveness of the trustee board;
  • responsibilities, duties and time commitment as a trustee;
  • support provided to trustees by the charity; and
  • risks and liabilities associated with trusteeship.

New Philanthropy Capital’s guidance on The Benefits of Trusteeship provides further guidance on the considerations and value of trusteeship.

Guidance and articles

The primary duties of trustees

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The primary duties of charity trustees are to observe the terms of their governing document, safeguard the assets and avoid conflicts of interest.

Fulfil your duties and responsibilities

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The trustees’ seminar in May covered the roles and responsibilities of trustees, delegation and conflicts of interest. Here we pick out some highlights from the event.

How much is your chief executive worth?

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Is it right that some charity sector CEOs are paid more than £100k? The Public Administration Select Committee considered this factor in its December hearing.

Realising the potential of governance

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Good governance is key to steering charities through the challenges and risks that many currently face. The major changes that the sector has seen over the past few years, from falling income to the shift from grants to contracts, have put ever more pressure on charities’ governance for example, around the key functions of evaluating and managing risk, achieving financial sustainability and setting strategy.

Charity trustees and decision making

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As a trustee, you have ultimate responsibility for your charity. This means you have to make a wide range of decisions, including strategic decisions that may involve significant costs and risk. New guidance from the Charity Commission, “It’s Your Decision: Charity Trustees and Decision Making” will help you understand how to fulfil your legal duties when making such decisions. It aims to increase confidence and to make decisions properly.

Trustees’ Week 2013: get involved

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It’s less than two weeks until Trustees’ Week on 4–10 November. This year we’re focusing on getting more charities involved, so read on to discover how you can take part.

Collaboration: ensure the fit is right

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Charities play an important part in delivering public services at national, regional and local levels. Along with other public service providers they are under increasing pressure to find new ways of delivering good outcomes in a way that works within increasingly constrained budgets.

The trustee cycle

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The Charity Governance Review analysed the annual reports of the top 100 charities (by income) to assess governance disclosures. Here, Carol Rudge from Grant Thornton, focuses on the findings on the nomination, induction, training, evaluation and rotation of trustees.

The relationship with your CEO

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The Chair of the Board and the Chief Executive (CEO) occupy important leadership roles in any organisation. Their relationship is crucial for effective governance of the organisation and to fulfilling their respective management responsibilities.

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