Recruiting a Trustee – advice to consider

Recruiting a Trustee

Our trustees are ultimately responsible for everything our charity does and can be held legally accountable for the decisions they make. Although the trustees are covered by the indemnity insurance we take out, we ensure that people who may be interested in becoming a Trustee for us, understand the risks and liabilities involved in being a trustee, as well as helping them to learn more about us before they accept a role.

To start with, we usually have an informal stage where one of the trustees, the chair or the chief executive, meet a potential trustee, to find out a bit more about them and what they can bring, to check their understanding of the role and this is also a chance for them to learn much more about us and our future plans.

After this, if they and we are still interested in them becoming a trustee, we arrange for an informal meeting the other members of the board. A due diligence check list is completed by them, to ensure they can be a trustee, and we share some information with them to help them with their decision, such as financial accounts and our memorandum and articles which set out the rules of our charity. This is an important document as it is the trustee’s duty to comply with these rules and they may be held responsible if they do not.

A new trustee will be interested in finding out who the other board members are too, to see if they will ‘fit in’ and be able to relate and challenge when necessary. They will be interested in the other board members commitment to the charity too. To help with this, we invite them to witness a board meeting, sharing the parts that can be, to help them feel comfortable in joining the board.

They will be interested in our strategic direction and our 3 year strategy, they will want to know where their skills will assist the charity in moving forward to for our beneficiaries, but also what time commitment will be expected of them, such as how often the board meetings, and sub committees are, and if they will be expected to be available for other reasons at other times too?
They will want to learn all that they can in order that they can carry out the duties of a trustee properly and fully and be able to put the charity first if there is a crisis or urgent need, as they should do.

We have developed and continually evaluate our trustee induction pack, to ensure that any person who is interested in becoming a trustee of The Gingerbread Centre, is well informed and is provided with the information and support necessary to help them with that decision and also in their future role.

Here is some advice and questions that trustees should ask before accepting a role:
1. Be clear about the rules and responsibilities you are taking on – who makes what decisions? Where does the power lie, with the chief executive or the board?
2. What is the leadership style within the organisation? Is the chair a team player? Does the chief executive respect the board?
3. What is its strategic direction and business objectives? Is there a plan in place? Who drives it?
4. What are the charities’ resources? You need to include everything from the land it owns to intellectual property and trademarks.
5. What are the training and induction processes for new trustees?
6. Every charity has a governance document containing rules for trustees. Make sure you see this at the outset, as it is your duty to comply with these rules and you may be held responsible if you do not.
7. What are the time commitments? Every charity will have different expectations.
8. Remember, you will need to put the organisation first if there is a crisis or urgent need. As a trustee it is your duty to put the charity before other commitments – are the other board members committed to this?
9. Understand who the beneficiaries are, as this is where the organisation’s loyalty lies.
10. Be very careful about the collective board decisions that are made. If you do not agree with a decision, you must register your dissent. If you are not at a meeting, read the minutes and make sure you have your say, it is your duty and responsibility.

There are some huge benefits and rewards in being a trustee and for many people it can be a life changing experience or the route to new career path. UK charities are crying out for trustee talent and many want to attract young trustees from different backgrounds to inject some energy and fresh ideas into their boards. However, we would urge any new trustee to do their homework and be aware of the challenges and opportunities first before taking on a trusteeship.

Wendy Hocking, Chief Executive