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The Role And Responsibilities Of A Charity Trustee

Whether you’re an experienced trustee or new to the role, you want to be sure you are supporting the longevity and prosperity of the charity.

This guidance set outs the main duties and responsibilities of charity trustees. These duties apply regardless of the size of your charity, or its purpose. 

Who can be a charity trustee?

The general rule is that a charity trustee must be at least 18 years old, although for charitable incorporated associations, it is possible to be a trustee who is 16 years old. If a person has been declared bankrupt or has unspent convictions, they may be disqualified or restricted from acting as a trustee. If a disqualified or restricted trustee acts, it could have serious implications for them and for your charity. Charity sectors may also have their own restrictions and guidance on who is able to act as a trustee.

Acting in the best interests of the public

At the core of a charity trustee’s duties is the responsibility to act in the public best interest. Considerations of public benefit will underpin not only the specific decisions taken by a charity trustee but will also underpin the broad aims of the charity and decisions made in this regard. An understanding of what the charity offers the public, how it presents itself to the public and the activities it undertakes all feed into whether the public best interest is being met. 

Acting in the public’s best interest is important and so is acting in the charity’s best interest. How the this is measured can look very different depending upon the nature of the charity and its own aims. As with the public best interest, the charity’s objectives should feed into all actions taken by a charity trustee. The aims and objectives of the charity should be considered by the charity trustees regularly and feature in everything they do for, and on behalf of, the charity.

Ensuring the correct governance is in place and taking legal advice

The governing documents of the charity will set out the charity’s purposes, plans and aims. It is the trustees’ role to follow the aims within these documents and to achieve the charity’s purposes on an ongoing basis, whilst ensuring both the trustees and the charity itself are following the legal requirements set out in the jurisdiction(s) in which the charity operates.  

There will also be legal requirements specific to the sector the charity is involved in, particularly where it relates to children or animals, or the charity is large enough to employ staff and enter contracts. Trustees should therefore ensure that they have taken appropriate legal advice on their responsibilities. 

Financial compliance

Finally, financial compliance and considered financial decision-making can be key not only to the success of the charity, but also in respect of how the charity is perceived by the wider public. Trustees’ responsibilities will include ensuring that the charity is registered with the Charity Commission (if required), ensuring that proper financial records are kept, making sound investment decisions on behalf of the charity and maintaining annual accounts. Ultimately, good financial hygiene and compliance will feed into the charity’s promotion of the public best interest.

How we can help

Our expert legal advisers can assist with advice on the role of trustees and provide support for trustees on their roles within charitable organisations. 

For more support on how becoming a trustee and our Charity and Philanthropy expertise please contact Matthew Briggs.

Article produced by Matthew Briggs and Emily Wentworth.