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Posted by Sarah Brown on 26 Jan '22

Top ten tips about how to get the most from your trustees

A strong board of trustees is a powerful part of any successful charity. Here are ten tips based on my experience about how to get the most from your trustees.

1. When you approach someone to be a trustee, make sure you start with what is terrific about your charity – how you change the world and some inspirational stories. Get them excited and inspired, and then ask if they want to be a trustee.

2. Be honest that trustees have legal responsibilities but emphasise that they are quite simple to understand. Have job roles and an induction pack plus, if possible, a mentor for new trustees. The Charity Commission has five-minute guides to the key issues for trustees that are a quick way to understand specific issues (find them here). The topics are:

  • Purpose
  • Finance
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Decisions
  • Support
  • Safeguarding

3. Encourage a culture of curiosity and emphasise that there is no such thing as a stupid question; beware jargon. Don’t assume everyone understands, even if it was in the induction pack.

4. Make sure your trustees understand charity finances, including the difference between contracts and grants, between restricted and unrestricted funds, and that surpluses are OK and reserves and money in the bank is good. Trustees need to understand why the charity may appear to have lots of money but be struggling to pay for overheads and general running costs or launch new services.

5. Use a risk register as a simple way of keeping the trustees up to date with issues for the charity. Colour coding, red, amber and green, for this and any finance reports, is a simple way to make lots of paperwork easier to understand

6. Have clear ranked values that everyone in the charity agrees to, knows and understands. Be aware that these may change depending on the circumstances of the charity.

7. Each year revisit your purpose and mission create a plan based on it - it doesn’t have to be an entire business plan if you are small, but it should include a budget and activities.

8. Be clever about how you involve people. Not everyone needs to be a trustee on your committee that manages the charity – just ensure only trustees make the legally required decisions. Use sub committees or task groups to report back to the main meeting so that you can keep trustee meetings shorter – e.g. an events committee, fundraising, and services.

9. Use the charity governance code to reboot your governance and check you are doing everything you need to. It covers:

  • Organisational purpose
  • Leadership
  • Integrity
  • Decision making, risk and control
  • Board effectiveness
  • Equality diversity and inclusion
  • Openness and accountability

10. Make sure every trustee has actions or an area of responsibility so they feel they are a contributing part of the team, not just someone who turns up for meetings. A WhatsApp group can encourage team working, communications and provide a forum to say well done.

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Tags: charity trustees