The Family Business – Thinking of volunteering as a charity trustee?
15 March 2017
Here are some top tips on things to consider when volunteering as a trustee from our charity law specialist, Liz Brownsell.
Quite often a longstanding family business brand becomes an integral part of a community and the generations of family members feel they want to ‘give something back’ to the local community which has provided a workforce and understanding environment for it to operate within for many years. So, as a successful and well known member of your community, you have probably been approached more than once about becoming a trustee of a local charity. From the outside it doesn’t look too difficult but you probably have some questions and concerns about what you would be taking on.
The trustees of a charity are the people who lead the charity and make decisions about how it is run. As such, they are responsible for the charity’s activities and have duties to further the charity’s purposes for the public benefit, act in the charity’s best interests, manage the charity’s resources responsibly, act with reasonable skill and care, and comply with the law. So, it is important that you consider the role carefully and ensure that you understand what is involved.
Below are five questions that we recommend you should ask yourself before taking things further, and additional guidance regarding the role of charity trustees can be found on the Charity Commission website.
- Do you understand what the charity is set up to do?
Charities are established for specific purposes (known as charitable “objects”), and you will have a duty to ensure that the charity is carrying out its own purposes and not pursuing other charitable causes, no matter how worthy they might be. You can find the charity’s objects by searching for the charity on the Charity Commission Register.
- Are you eligible to act as a charity trustee?
For most charities, you must be at least 18 years old to be a charity trustee and you must not be disqualified as a matter of law. But, you must also satisfy any conditions set out in the constitution of the charity. You should ask for a copy of the charity’s constitution and check the requirements.
- What skills and experience will you bring to the charity?
All charity trustees have a duty to act with reasonable skill and care, but if you have any particular skills and experience then you will have a greater duty of care in relation to any decisions that are within your expertise. For example, if you have a professional background in finance, then your duty of care when making financial decisions will be greater than your fellow trustees who do not have the same expertise. You are also likely to be relied upon more heavily by your fellow trustees in relation to those decisions.
- What are the charity’s expectations of you, and how much time can you realistically give?
It is important to understand what will be expected of you and consider whether you can commit sufficient time to fulfil your duties as a trustee. You should find out how many meetings there are per year, where they are held and at what time of day. Other questions to ask include what the key risks and challenges are for the charity, as this will help you to understand how much involvement and support might be required and on what sorts of issues.
- Do you have any conflicts of interest that might affect your ability to act in the charity’s best interests?
Charity trustees have a duty to avoid conflicts of interest. This includes any situation in which you might have a conflict between your duty to act in the charity’s best interests and a duty or loyalty that you have to someone else or another organisation. Provided that any conflicts of interest can be appropriately managed, then you may still act as a trustee. But, be wary of conflicts that are likely to create a serious difficulty for you in fulfilling your duties as a trustee.
Senior Associate, Liz Brownsell, specialises in advising charities and their trustees. She is responsible for running practical and engaging workshops for trustees that cover the legal duties of charity trustees, the main reporting and charity law requirements, personal liability, managing risk, and the extent of the role in relation to staff and volunteers. If you would like to discuss any aspect of the role of a trustee, Liz would love to hear from you.
The content of this article is for general information only. If you require advice on any aspect of your fundraising activities, or charity involvement, please get in touch with Liz Brownsell or another member of Birketts’ Charities Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at March 2017.