At the end of another Trustees Week, I thought I’d share some of the resources I’ve found which will help trustees, whether they’re new or experienced, to improve the valuable work they do for their charities, every day of the year.
Trustees hold a crucial position in charities; they’re there to steward a charity and its resources and hold an important position of trust. Trustees provide direction and oversight to their charities and have they have specific legal obligations, regulated by the Charity Commission. And the trustee role is overwhelmingly a voluntary one, with thousands of trustees up and down the country dedicating their time, skills and experience to the smooth running of their charities, often in a challenging climate.
So I thought for Trustees Week I’d share some of my favourite resources designed to help trustees, as well as sharing some of the frequently discussed topics from a year’s worth of Trustee Chats that Eileen and I have been hosting with our friends Libby and Stuart at SCVO (our counterparts in Sandwell).
What’s it like to be a trustee?
Trustees Week is the time when you’ll see lots of stories from charity trustees that can give you insight into the role. In Dudley, Kathy Roper has shared what she most enjoys about being a charity trustee of Beacon Centre.
You’ll also find lots of stories from trustees up and down the country on the Trustees Week website, and on the #TrusteesWeek hashtag on Twitter. At both of those links, you’ll also find resources and help.
My go-to resources
- The Essential Trustee – this is guidance on the legal duties for charity trustees straight from the Charity Commission. I use this as a basis for my trustee training.
- Charity Governance Code – this is a tool to help you health check your charity’s governance and implement measures to improve it. This is the second tool I use as a basis for my trustee training.
- For Trustees Week 2020, the Charity Commission released a series of 5 minute guides for trustees. They’re still available now.
- NCVO (National Council of Voluntary Organisations) is offering some discounted training for trustees (which starts next January). You’ll also find guides and resources on all sorts of topics. Many of its guides, webinars and resources are on its website free of charge, others are free to members. I would recommend becoming a member of NCVO to access the additional resources they offer.
- Charity Excellence has a range of resources and guidance for Trustees Week, including:
Frequent topics of conversation from a year’s worth of Trustee Chats and links to resources and further help
We launched Trustees Chat in Trustees Week 2020 as a way to share our resources and expertise with our friends at SCVO. Each session has an open agenda so that discussions are led by everyone who attends. We never really know what we’ll be talking about in a particular session and that keeps us on our toes!
Since then, we’ve hosted Trustee Chat every couple of months and I’ve always been bowled over by how everyone contributes so openly and supportively. We’ve had brand new trustees, experienced trustees, people who are interested in becoming trustees, founders of new charities and senior staff who interact with their trustees. All of them have shared their challenges, experiences, ideas and tips and we’re so grateful to everyone who has joined us.
After hosting Trustee Chat for a year, I’ve been able to draw together the topics that have been frequently discussed. Many of these probably won’t come as a surprise, and I think trustees can be reassured that whatever is challenging them has challenged other trustees too! Here’s the hot topics and some resources to help.
Succession planning and trustee recruitment
The Charity Commission and campaigns like the Young Trustees Movement are interested in board diversity. In 2017, the Charity Commission commissioned some research into diversity of trustee board. And in their blog for this year’s Trustees Week, the Charity Commission has again focused on board diversity and the importance of different perspectives.
I also wrote a blog post about this picture and made some tentative suggestions on how to start changing those kinds of figures and opening up board recruitment more broadly so that trustee boards better reflect society. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, the blog post is available here. To supplement that, NCVO has a useful page of things to think about when recruiting trustees too.
When I help boards to think about trustee recruitment, a useful document I use is the Trustee Recruitment Toolkit. The Trustee Recruitment Toolkit was originally by NCVO, but it’s no longer available there. Sheffield Volunteer Centre still have it downloadable from their website.
We’ve also talked generally about trustee recruitment, and how clarity is key to finding the right people for trustee roles. This included giving an idea of the time commitment involved and having role descriptions. Our discussions also focused on the importance of telling the story of the charity as a way to hook people, because people connect with the difference that charities want to make. On the storytelling side, Stuart from SCVO shared the following resources from Simon Sinek:
- Simon Sinek – ‘Start With Why’ – ISBN 978-0-241-95822-3
- On YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp0HIF3SfI4 … but there are others … well worth a watch.
In terms of advertising your trustee roles, Sandwell and Dudley both have volunteer websites that can help you to promote your opportunities are. Sandwell’s is www.letsgosandwell.info and Dudley CVS’s is https://volopps.com/
One participant used Do It (www.do-it.org) to recruit trustees and volunteers and suggested inviting volunteers to trustee meetings, shadowing/buddying up so that they can get a taste of trusteeship, remove the mystery surrounding it and increase their confidence.
Don’t forget about the importance of following the rules in your charity’s governing document when it comes to recruiting new trustees (ie. making sure that you don’t exceed any maximum number etc.).
Learning and induction
Charities hold a position of trust in society and they receive advantages in terms of taxation, fundraising and attracting public support. In order to receive these advantages, there are extra obligations charity trustees have. As well as the training we offer, these resources are a good starting point:
- Charity Commission guidance The Essential Trustee
And a two-page digest of The Essential Trustee
For Trustees Week, the Charity Commission released a number of 5 minute reads on the main trustee duties
- The Charity Governance Code is a tool for boards of trustees to improve governance collectively
Charity Excellence is a new, independent resource and toolkit to support groups
And if you’re looking for other charity-based offers on software (& hardware), check out Charity Digital Exchange
We’ve had conversations about dynamics between the board of trustees, trustees and staff and the importance of keeping good records of decisions and meetings. Participants shared some helpful tips on notetaking that will allow the secretary to contribute to the meeting too. This included recording the meeting or using a professional minute-taker (if budget allows) who is outside of the decision-making board of trustees.
The Association of Chairs may also be a good resource around group dynamics and the relationship between trustees and senior staff.
We’ve had frank discussions about risk and the things that may put people off joining trustee boards. We’ve had people interested in becoming a trustee, but understandably stipulating that they will only join boards that already have good governance in place. We discussed how the risks of being a trustee could be mitigated through:
- Incorporated legal structures to limit personal liability of trustees
- Asking the right questions – having an environment where asking difficult or challenging questions is supported rather than suppressed.
- Board diversity rather than friends of the CEO / groupthink mentality
- Clear reporting
- The 10 key questions to ask before agreeing to become a charity trustee
- And 15 questions trustees should ask of their charity
So that’s it. Some of my and my colleagues’ top resources for charity trustees based on the things that have been frequently discussed at our Trustee Chats. If you’re interested in joining our next Trustee Chat, or if you’d like to arrange some trustee training for your Dudley or Sandwell based charity, please get in touch.