Trustees are the life blood of charities. They carry out their role because they have a passion to make a difference, to fulfil an urgent need, whatever that may be. They are expected to always act in the best interests of their charity and its beneficiaries (which depending on the charity can be people, animals, the environment, or things like buildings or art). Charities and trustees are covered by charity law and are ‘policed’ by the Charity Commission. Their basic role is to

  • ensure charity is well run, solvent and working towards its charitable purpose
  • take ultimate responsibility

The Charity Commission's ‘The essential trustee’ is a must read. There is a full document but also a useful 2 page summary explaining the 6 duties below.

The Commission also has a useful Welcome Pack and a series of 5 minute guides.

CAN has some guides to:

We also run regular training sessions so check our website. You can view a recent recording here and a PowerPoint presentation.

Recruiting trustees

Many charities find it difficult to fill vacancies. More and more research shows that spending time planning recruitment, in the same way as you would for staff, pays off. Getting on Board have a very good guide. CAF have produced a good guide about the benefits of recruiting young trustees and suggestions about how to recruit and keep them. We can advertise your vacancies on the CAN Volunteer Hub.

Benefits to trustees

Generally trustees do not benefit personally from their charity. This is also true for close family members and business partners, i.e. connected persons  (see section 1.5 of the Charity Commission Guidance). If they do then the charity must follow what it says in their constitution/ articles and charity law and Commission guidance. Trustees can be a user of the services of the charity as long as it’s one that any of the charity users can claim, however if it’s a personal service/benefit (e.g. a grant) then you need to follow the rules. Trustees can claim back expenses. If these are expenses for the direct running of the charity (e.g. buying stationery, stamps, copying, equipment, phone calls) like anyone else in the charity they can claim that back. However they can also claim back reasonable expenses of carrying out their role as a trustee such as travel to trustee meetings, telephone costs of acting as a trustee, carer costs to attend a meeting as a trustee, etc. All charitable companies and other charities with annual income more than £250,000 have to declare these trustee related expenses in the annual accounts. However it is recommended that all charities should do so in the spirit of transparency.

Trustees can loan money, provide services and goods and rent buildings to the charity but you must follow how to do this in your constitution/articles and Commission guidance. Most constitutions/articles do not allow trustees to be employees unless approved by the Charity Commission. This is because they, and CAN agrees, that the voluntary element of being a trustee is a key feature of charities. If you are considering this then follow your rules and the Commission guidance to the letter or the person may be forced to pay back their pay because it will be seen as an unauthorised benefit.

Last updated: 26th April, 2022