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Am I being a good charity trustee?


As a charity trustee, do you catch yourself asking whether you are doing the right thing? Or wondering if there is a standard of behaviour you have to adhere to? And what if all goes wrong?

These are all good questions to consider and to reflect on. Charity trustees have a legal duty to make sure that a charity’s assets are applied solely for the charity’s purposes. Inherent in that requirement is a duty to ensure the purposes are being advanced for the public benefit. Beyond these fundamental duties, there are also a whole raft of additional statutory duties to honour depending on the legal structure of the charity. No wonder this topic can be a little baffling!


However, if you find yourself working towards your charity’s charitable purposes, for the public benefit in all manner of your activities, and are acting with honesty, integrity and in compliance with your charity’s governing document, then you are most likely to be on track, and are meeting what are known as general trustee duties. These general duties are in essence behavioural standards which trustees are legally required to adhere to. In a way these are quite intuitive in nature and beyond what’s already mentioned, they require a trustee to manage their charity’s resources responsibly and to act with reasonable care and skill. So if there isn’t a voice in the corner of your mind questioning whether your actions are in line with your charity’s purposes, or whether in your gut you feel uncomfortable due to an unacceptable private gain that could arise following a certain course of action, then you can be comfortable that you are already on track for conducting yourself as a good trustee.

To help trustees understand in more detail what these general duties are, the Charity Commission have published a useful guidance summarising these in their “CC3 guidance-The essential trustee: what you need to know, what you need to do” and you can find this in both video and word format. It is recommended that you familiarise yourself with this guidance and review it regularly as it is often updated. Hopefully, it should allay any concerns you may have on your approach and on your day-to-day actions. However, even if your actions are very clearly furthering your charitable purposes, and you feel that you are staying true to the charity’s governing documents, trustees need to also have regard to the Charity Commission’s public benefit guidance. This will help prevent a scenario where, whilst your actions may be charitable in nature, the charity is not actually helping the individuals or organisations that the charity was set up to benefit. If this were the case, then the charity could fail the public benefit test and put its charitable status at risk.

A tool that you may find useful to consult and guard yourself against unintentional deviations in the running of your charity is the Charity governance code which sets out some recommended practices for charity trustees to use in order to develop high standards of governance. The code is easy to navigate and is divided into different topics ranging from leadership, board effectiveness to openness and accountability, and helpfully, what the outcomes of adopting some of these recommended practices could look like for a charity. Each section of the code has also been turned into a practical diagnostic tool which charity trustees can use to assess their current practices and to see where improvements on governance could be made. In a similar fashion, the Charity Commission’s “The Governance Jigsaw” contains, in a visual form, some useful pointers on what charity trustees could practically do to honour the general trustee duties.

Trustees should not generally be losing sleep worrying about their role as a charity trustee and should try not to worry if things do go wrong. Charity law will generally protect trustees who have acted honestly and reasonably and the Charity Commission are also at hand to address any concerns you may have and grant pardons for any honest mistakes made. Trustees’ conduct is generally judged according to their own specialist knowledge, skill sets and life experience. After all, the Charity Commission does recognise that most trustees are compassionate volunteers who are doing their best and can sometimes make mistakes. In fact, the Charity Commission very much encourages an open dialogue with trustees, so you should not feel inhibited from reaching out to them for advice. Again, if you can hold your head up high in all manner of your actions, are conscientious about compliance, then you can be reassured that you are in fact being a very good trustee indeed! In some respects, to be a good trustee is an extension of your attitude and honourable actions, and by following the simple pointers in this article, hopefully it can provide you with the confidence to continue with the inspiring work that you are doing.

If you do require any advice on how to improve the governance of your charity, or have any questions about this article, please do get in touch with us, as we have experts on hand to help you to carry out your noble intentions.

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