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What is a Trustee?

The term 'trustee' describes someone who is entrusted to look after money, or other resources given to them by others, for the benefit of a third party.

 The term 'trustee' is used in two different contexts when describing members of the management groups of community and voluntary organisations:

1. In its most general sense,' trustee' is often used as a generic term to refer to members of the management group of any community or voluntary organisation.

The National Occupational Standards for Trustees and Management Committee Members in the Voluntary and Community Sector defines trustees as; "people who serve on the governing body of a voluntary or community organisation. They may be known as trustees, directors, board members, governors, or committee members or some other title. Trustees have ultimate responsibility and legal obligation for directing the affairs of the organisation and ensuring it is solvent, well-run and delivering the outcomes for which it has been set up".

2.The term 'trustee' (or more accurately, 'charity trustee') is, however, most commonly used in relation to registered charities. Section 97 of the Charities Act 1993 defines charity trustees as: "the persons having the general control and management of the administration of a charity".

Charity trustees are also different from trustees as they are subject to specific legal obligations arising from Charity Law.

For more information about the role of the charity trustee see the Charity Commission publication CC3 The Essential Trustee: What you need to know

What is Governance?

The 'governance' of community and voluntary organisations is the role that trustees have in providing leadership for their organisation and ensuring that it is effectively and properly run.

The National Occupational Standards for Trustees and Management Committee Members in the Voluntary and Community Sector defines governance as, "The systems and processes concerned with ensuring the overall direction, effectiveness, supervision and accountability of an organisation".

The governance role is distinct from the day-to-day management and operations of an organisation which are undertaken by staff or volunteers. Governance is not necessarily about doing; it is about ensuring that things are done.

The governance of a community or voluntary organisation often includes;

  • Creating a clear, shared vision for the organisation;
  • Developing plans and policies to bring about the organisation's objectives;
  • Recruiting and supervising the chief executive officer (if applicable);
  • Ensuring compliance with policy and the law;
  • Keeping within budget;

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What are the National Occupational Standards for Trustees and Management Committee Members?

The National Occupational Standards for Trustees and Management Committee Members in the Voluntary and Community Sector is a set of guidance materials designed to assist individual trustees to understand their role and to effectively carry out their duties.

The standards are a voluntary code of principles and good practice, however they represent a nationally recognised standard for the role and duties of a trustee.

The National Occupational Standards comprise four units, covering the key functions of a trustee's role, which are to:

  • Safeguard and promote the values and mission of the voluntary or community organisation;
  • Determine the strategy and structure of the voluntary or community organisation;
  • Ensure the voluntary or community organisation operates in an effective, responsible and accountable manner;
  • Ensure the effective functioning of the voluntary or community organisation's board of trustees;

Each of these units includes detailed guidance on the principles and actions required to fulfil these functions.

The standards also identify the personal qualities that individual trustees need to apply in order to effectively carry out their responsibilities;

  • Be committed to the purpose, objects and values of the organisation;
  • Be constructive about other trustees opinions in discussions and responsive to staff members; contributions at meetings;
  • Be able to act reasonably and responsibly when undertaking such duties and performing tasks;
  • Be able to maintain confidentiality on sensitive and confidential information;
  • Be supportive of the values (and ethics) of the organisation;
  • Understand the importance and purpose of meetings and be committed to preparing them adequately and attending them regularly;
  • Be able to analyse information and, when necessary, challenge constructively;
  • Be able to make collective discussions and stand by them;
  • Be able to respect boundaries between executive and governance functions;

For full details about the National Occupational Standards click here.

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Can a Trustee be paid?

The question of expenses and other payments to trustees can be a complex issue, particularly for charities.

 Charity law states that trustees cannot receive any benefit from their charity in return for any service they provide to it unless they have express legal authority to do so. 'Benefit' includes any property, goods, or services which have a monetary value, as well as money.

 The exception to this is expenses payments. Charity Commission Guidance states;

"Expenses are refunds by a charity of payments which a trustee has needed to meet personally (or which would otherwise be met on his or her behalf) in order to carry out trustee duties. Even in the absence of any specific authority in the governing document, the law clearly entitles a trustee to reimbursement of expenses that have been properly incurred."

 If your group is a charity the Charity Commission provides definitive guidance on payments to trustees in its publication CC11 Payment for Charity Trustees.

 More information about payments to trustees can be found on the NCVO web pages Payments and benefits to trustees and Can trustees claim expenses?

For information about expenses payments see the PAVO information sheet  4.13 Volunteer Expenses.

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