Today marks the start of Trustees’ Week, the annual celebration of trusteeship. Now in its sixth year, Trustees’ Week is a chance for the sector to pay tribute to the amazing contribution of trustees and charities to society. It is also an opportunity for trustees – new and experienced – to brush up on the basics and ensure they are familiar with their fundamental duties as charity trustees. To help with this, the Charity Commission has recently re-launched its key guide, the Essential Trustee. It has been revamped and completely rewritten, clearly explaining the core responsibilities and duties of trustees. Whether you are new to trusteeship or very experienced, the new guide is a must-read. Not only is it a good introduction to – or reminder of – the key duties of being a trustee, it also gives a clear indication of what the commission expects of trustees and the common errors to watch out for.

The new guide also sets out what the commission considers to be best practice for a range of circumstances. As before, the new guide uses the terms ‘must’ and ‘should’ – ‘must’ for a legal or regulatory requirement that trustees must comply with, and ‘should’ for good practice requirements that the commission expects trustees to follow and apply.

If the commission is looking into concerns raised about a particular charity, it will not be enough for its trustees to say that they have complied with the minimum legal requirements. The commission will want to know if they have followed and applied their recommended good practice also and, if not, why not. If you choose not to follow the “shoulds” recommended by the commission, it’s important you can explain and justify your reasons.

So what are the key trustee duties outlined in the guide?

1. Ensure your charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit.
2. Comply with your charity’s governing document and the law.
3. Act in your charity’s best interests.
4. Manage your charity’s resources responsibly.
5. Act with reasonable care and skill.
6. Ensure your charity is accountable.

When serious concerns arise about a charity and its governance, the commission has found there’s usually been a failure in at least one of these duties. While it may seem obvious to say, for example, that a charity needs to comply with its governing document, it happens all too often in practice that trustees lack familiarity with or fail to adhere to it.

The new guide highlights common pitfalls such as this and gives practical examples of how trustees can comply with good governance practice. Additional detailed guidance is signposted for those who want a more in-depth understanding.

Hearteningly, while the guide emphasises trustee obligations and responsibilities, it also reassures trustees that they are not expected to be perfect – they are expected to do their best. The guide acknowledges that charities vary in size and activities, and what amounts to good practice will differ from charity to charity. At BWB, we are encouraging our clients to read the new Essential Trustee guide and find out what the Commission views as good practice.

As the new guide acknowledges, volunteering as a charity trustee is a rewarding and exciting opportunity and BWB is delighted to be part of Trustees’ Week, championing and supporting trustees across the sector.


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Leona Roche

Senior Associate and Joint Head of Faith-Based Organisations

+44(0)20 7551 7736

View full information about Leona Roche

Posted on 02/11/2015 in Legal Updates

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