I have just stepped down after almost six years as a Trustee for Hartlebury Castle Preservation Trust. I have previously been a trustee for a range of heritage sector organisations including professional development, strategic, and heritage preservation bodies.
I thought I’d put down some thoughts on being a charity trustee. I hope this is useful to those who want to know more or are considering becoming a trustee.
Being a trustee is a fantastic professional and personal development opportunity, a chance to give something back, an opportunity to diversify your networks, a way to develop your CV, and gain management and leadership experience. Great. But. It is more than going to meetings. It is hard work. And it is a lot of responsibility.
So. What did I achieve?
- I helped save a unique piece of heritage for public use.
- I learnt a lot from working with my fellow trustees who were from diverse backgrounds and had a wide range of professional experience between them.
- Learning that we had been awarded £5m by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
- Spending £2m of public money purchasing a historic building.
Would I do it again?
- Yes. But not for a while. The responsibility is significant. Being a trustee is stressful at times.
Then. Your go-to information source is the Charity Commission website. This provides advice for trustees, on governance, and annual reports for all registered charities. You cannot spend too much time on this website.
To get the best out of being a trustee.
- Identify the charity or area of charity work you feel strongly about.
- Consider which skills you can offer.
- Think about what you would like to learn more about.
- Be clear about what you will not do.
- Then look for vacancies.
Essentials before you sign up.
- Know your responsibilities.
- Look at the charity’s annual report and accounts.
- Also the website. Does it say what the charity does? Is it up to date? If not why not?
- Understand the charity’s governance. Is it incorporated or unincorporated? Is it a company limited by guarantee? A CIC or a CIO? Ask the other trustees (if they are not clear – do not join). Do your own research (what are you liable for if it all goes belly-up?).
- Meet one or more existing trustees.
- Ask if you can join a board meeting as an observer.Does the chair manage the meeting well? Does every trustee participate? How do they interact as a group?
- Is there clarity on money in the bank and up coming commitments? Does the Treasurer bring a copy of the latest bank statement?
By the time you decide to become a trustee or a trustee director (if you are not sure which it is, you have not done your research) you should know the Charity Commission website and your chosen charity very well indeed.
And. Just so you know.
If you work for a charity being a trustee will give you insights into your own board and the responsibilities and choices they face. This is not necessarily a good thing…