Ten top tips for trustees


​Tracey Bird explores the vital steps that those who volunteer as charity trustees should take

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3rd October 2017 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Tracey Bird

Tracey Bird

There are about 250,000 people who volunteer as charity trustees in Scotland. They are all busy people, often working with limited resources. As well as recognition and appreciation, they also need practical help.

So, if you’re one, here’s ten top tips to make your life just that little bit easier:

1. Recruit right

Board diversity is vital for good governance. If your board is a bit male, pale and stale then you need to shake things up and look at how you recruit. Only 10% of vacancies are advertised, but relying on existing networks means you only get more of the same. So identify any skills gaps, draw up a good role description, and ensure you have an open and transparent recruitment process.

2. Get a good induction

A good induction is vital. Trustees need to be fully aware of their legal responsibilities and have an overview of how the board works. They need to know about where the organisation is at, and where it wants to go. Check you’ve got all the information you need with SCVO’s sample induction checklist.

3. Know your governing document

To be an effective trustee you need to understand your constitution and know your organisation’s values, aims, ethos and mission. You need to know, because it’s your job to safeguard them, and ensure you stick to them when making any decisions.

4. Watch out for conflicts of interest

Many trustees sit on a number of boards or have business interests, some may also be employees of an organisation. This can lead to conflicts of interest. Make sure you have a Register of Interests that all your trustees should sign.

5. Behave yourselves

Is your board clear about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour? Make sure all your trustees sign up to a Code of Conduct to keep them on the straight and narrow. Personality clashes can be common in a sector where passionate people want to get things done. But squabbling and internal power struggles can destroy your organisation. The Third Sector Mediation Service can help resolve difficult situations.

6. Understand the finances

You have to get to grips with the money in order to ensure the future sustainability of your organisation. Finance is everyone’s responsibility, not just the treasurer. As a trustee you’re a part of a team and you all have collective responsibility.

7. Keep up to date

Knowing your legal responsibilities is vital. Breaching certain laws can have expensive consequences, and as a trustee the buck really does stop with you. Keep up to date and take expert advice where you need it.

8. Develop a learning culture

The most successful boards and organisations create a learning culture to avoid repeating mistakes. Think about mentoring for new trustees, a board appraisal structure, and training.

9. Know the difference between governance and management

Governance doesn’t mean management. Trustees should focus on the big picture and think and act strategically. They should set the long term direction of the organisation, as far as possible, stay clear of making operational decisions.

10. Future proof

The world is changing fast and trustees need to ensure future sustainability of the organisation. Make sure you know what’s coming up on the broader political and economic horizon, and keep up to date with technology and social change.

Tracey Bird is an Information Officer at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. Find the resources she refers to on the Running Your Organisation section of the SCVO website.