What characteristics and experience makes someone the ideal charity trustee?

Written By Richard Crane

I am not sure that I am an expert at being a charity trustee – there again there are few people that are, most trustees have their own area of expertise and experience that as a collective provides a breath of knowledge to look after a charity’s assets and ensure it delivers the good it sets out to. Clearly you need to make time to ensure your role adds value to the charity and it is better to focus on one or two rather than say yes to too many.  

While obviously well intentioned and seemingly altruistic being a charity trustee has its rewards too. I have found being a charity trustee is gratifying on a number of levels and is certainly different to other aspects of professional life. One of the key differences is working with volunteers – which really hones your awareness of how they work and how to work best together – it is not a question of being authoritarian or too judgemental as one might be in corporate life. It makes one become more tolerant of short term irritations in the longer-term interest of the charity.

I have also found it very important to define and revisit the objectives of the charity you are working with and using this to help set a giving framework. No charitable trust can give to all causes so really understanding where you wish to make a difference to individuals and / or organisations is very important – and it saves a lot of time when grant requests come in. Providing clarity about the objectives of the trust also make it easier for charities to approach a trust for a grant or donation.

Charities are rightly keenly regulated by the Charity Commission. There are tax and other advantages that can be abused for corporate or personal gain. To ensure trustees have some protection from these risks it is first important to have they have appropriate training and secondly to work with specialist professionals who understand the rules and nuances of the 3rd sector.

Many charities do not always find it easy to attract a trustees – particularly those with relevant professional skills. In fairness the regulators have helped in this regard with the advent of ‘CIO’s’ – Charitable Incorporated Organisations which takes away much of the potential liability a trustee might think they are exposed to. 

It will also be easier to attract new trustees if the trust administration is slick and this more often than not require some third party service provider or possibly a direct administrator employee. Trustees should be relieved from too much heavy administration lifting so they can be more independent and have time for the more important and strategic roles.

For those wishing to start charity perhaps to help with family giving and sharing the rewards of their life’s work or some windfall the basics can be quite simple and very straight forward for charities with income of less than £10,000pa. I have though seen it when the charity set up by an earlier generation has run its course and the current family trustees have sensibly decided to distribute the charity’s capital to other often much larger charities who can be more efficient in administration and giving and more passionate about a cause.

So do get involved if you can and I hope the pointers above will help you and the charity you might be involved with. Please do get in touch if you would like a word on any of the above.

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