(Version January 2007)
You can also view a colour PDF version of The Essential Trustee: An introduction (CC3a)
You are probably reading this because you have just become, or are about to become, a charity trustee. If so, we welcome you and congratulate you. Your skills and energy will help to make a difference to your chosen charity. You will become responsible for the charity's aims and direction, for its property, finances and the employment of any staff or volunteers. Without good and committed trustees, no charity can hope to succeed.
We would like to wish you well as a trustee, and hope that you will gain real satisfaction from making a contribution to society. The Charity Commission exists to regulate charities and protect their reputation. We are here to help and advise you and your colleagues.
This guidance sets out a summary of your new responsibilities and duties, and also how you can get support and assistance from us and from other organisations.
In this guidance, where we use 'must' we mean it is a specific legal or regulatory requirement affecting trustees or a charity. To help you easily identify a legal or regulatory requirement we have used the symbol. We use 'should' for items we regard as minimum good practice, but for which there is no specific legal requirement. Trustees should follow the good practice guidance unless there's a good reason not to.
Dame Suzi Leather
Charity trustees are the people who form the governing body of a charity. They may be known as trustees, directors, board members, governors or committee members. Trustees are responsible for controlling the management and administration of a charity. The great majority of trustees serve as volunteers, and receive no payment (other than to repay necessary out-of-pocket expenses incurred). Trustees should work together as a team, and have collective responsibility for their charity.
Being a trustee can be hard work, but by contributing you should also gain. Trusteeship should be rewarding, providing opportunities for personal development. As you give your skills to the running of your charity, you will at the same time gather new skills and experience.
Trustees have, and must accept, ultimate responsibility for directing the affairs of their charity, ensuring that it is solvent and well-run, and delivering the charitable outcomes for the benefit of the public for which it was set up. You need to keep in mind the following areas of responsibility.
Ensuring compliance - Trustees must ensure that their charity complies with:
Duty of prudence - Trustees must:
Duty of care - Trustees must:
To fulfil these responsibilities properly, trustees should make sure that they keep up to date with what the charity is doing. You should give enough time and energy to the business of the charity, and meet regularly enough to make the decisions needed. How this is done will vary between different types and sizes of charity.
We are the independent charity regulator for England and Wales. Our job is to work with charities to ensure that they are accountable, well run and meet their legal obligations. We also aim to promote public trust and confidence in charities. Most charities must register with us, although some types of charity do not have to register. We provide a wide range of advice and guidance to charities. We produce a twice yearly newsletter which is sent to all registered charities in England and Wales and offer a number of online services via our website. You can also read and download any of our publications and guidance from our website.
We offer information and advice to charities on both legal requirements and best practice to help them operate as effectively as possible and to prevent problems arising. In the very few cases where serious problems occur, we have wide powers to look into them and put things right. Depending on the circumstances and the charity's governing document, trustees may be personally liable for any debts or losses that the charity faces. However, personal liability of this kind is rare, and trustees who have followed the requirements summarised in this guidance will generally be protected.
This is only a summary of the responsibilities and duties of trustees and you can find out more in The Essential Trustee: What you need to know (CC3), which contains more detailed information. For a full list see the Publications section of our website.
Our website offers a wide range of easily accessible online services, tools, information and guidance. Before contacting us for advice or help you might like to search our online database of frequently asked questions. Most people can find an answer they need without making a phone call or writing an email. Alternatively, our Contacting us page is linked to from the top and bottom of every web page.
As well as the guidance we produce, there are many other resources that trustees can use to help them carry out their duties. We encourage you to make use of the wide range of organisations that can help you run your charity as effectively as possible. Details of some of these organisations are listed in The Essential Trustee: What you need to know. You can also find details of other sources of information in 'Useful links' on the homepage of our website.
This guidance is available in audio format and in Welsh. It is also available in Braille and large print on request.
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