Trustees' Week 2020 - Questions and Myths
02/11/2020 (Volunteer Post )
Welcome to Trustees' Week 2020
You'll likely be hearing A LOT about Trustees this week. Charities and organisations use this week to celebrate trustees' work, encourage training, and even recruit new trustees to boards. We'll be joining in on all of that but we thought for Monday it would be best to answer a few questions and address a few myths about trusteeship; just so we can start the week right. This should be considered a bit of an introduction and for anyone looking to find out more there is a list of great further reading at the bottom.
For this article we'll be looking at a bit of who, what and why.
First off though, what is a trustee?
OSCR describes a charity trustee as "the people in overall control and management of a charity."
Depending on the organisation size or setup, trustees may be called something different, like governors, councillors, management committee members or directors. Some trustees may have additional titles like Chair or Secretary and so may have additional duties but the key work of a trustee is to manage the charity in accordance with its governing principles, documents, and in accordance with charity law (more on that below).
Trustees have overall control but that doesn't mean they're the only people working on behalf of the charity. Depending on the size of the charity there will be paid staff and/or volunteers working for the charity who will provide reports and work with the board of trustees to ensure working practices are in line with the charity's ethos.
So who can be a trustee?
In Scotland the only disqualifying criteria for becoming a trustee are:
Someone with an unspent conviction for an offence involving dishonesty or an offence under the 2005 Act.
Someone who is an undischarged bankrupt or has a Protected Trust Deed.
Someone who has been removed under either Scottish or English Law or the courts from being a charity trustee.
Someone who is disqualified from being a company director.
(Source: Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005)
There is also an understanding that you should be over 16, as that is the age you may legally sign a contract to state you are becoming a trustee in Scotland, but that is not law.
Despite this there are many myths about being a trustee.
*This statistic comes from a review of Trusteeship in 2017 and even the review conceded that the median was closer to 1-4 hours a week. There are periods when a trustee may be required to dedicate that amount of time to their role, particularly new trustees investing time in to learning about their role and trustees supporting a charity going through a period of significant change.
One important point to note is that the above qualities aren't bad. Having a qualification, having the time, having connections and being a leader are not bad qualities in a trustee, they just aren't the only qualities boards should look for and shouldn't be prioritised if the role and organisation don't need those things from their trustees.
So when it comes to strong trustee boards, and trustees in general, there is no mould to fill and no one size fits all. Trustees should be as varied as the organisations they are supporting.
Okay, so the people are different, but what about the duties?
Above are the 8 general duties of a trustee but, as mentioned above, some trustees may have additional duties to fulfill. Most trustees understand that when they are recruited to a board they may have been selected to assist with a certain kind of duty; people with fundraising experience for example would give their voice and knowledge to fundraising efforts more readily than to OSCR reporting. This is why a varied board is stronger and ultimately more supportive.
How trustees go about ensuring these duties are met is different for each organisation, and will be outlined in the charity's governing document. Trustee meetings are usually held to ensure work is being undertaken to the expected standard but again, how often these meetings happen depend on the organisation. Guidance from the UK government suggests
"the frequency of trustees’ meetings should reflect the needs of the individual organisation."
So we've looked at who can be a trustee and what they would be doing, but there's still the big question of why?
Why become a trustee?
Trustees are often some of the hardest roles to fill for a charity, despite providing some of the most tangible benefits for those volunteering, particularly with regards to career progression and development. And these are just the obvious ones, a humble infographic can't showcase all the soft skills, the improved wellbeing, the specialised training...
They are often the hardest to fill because of a lack of knowledge of what the role entails, and a misconception of who can become a trustee, but hopefully this article has clarified a few of those points.
To keep reading about trusteeship have a look through any of the below links or head here to see about information events coming up as part of Trustees Week
OSCR's Guidance and Good Practice
SCVO's Roles and Responsibilities
Getting On Board's Be A Trustee Page
'Just Do It': Alice Rath on volunteering and trusteeship