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Duties and Responsibilities of a Charity Trustee

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

As a Trustee for a charity, no matter the size, you should be aware of where your responsibilities lie.

Essentially, there are six main duties:

Ensure the charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit

Appointed trustees need to be aware of the difference the charity is making and what the charity is able to do within its purposes. As a trustee you should be aware of how the charity is fulfilling its purposes and benefiting the public.

Comply with the charity’s governing document and the law

A competent Trustee should be aware of the contents of the charity’s governing document. The charity must be up to date with filing accounts, returns and any changes to the charity’s registration details. Trustees should also be conscious of any other laws which the charity needs to adhere to. You do not need to be an expert in order to be a successful Trustee but you do need to ensure you are taking sufficient steps to make the right choice for the charity.

Act in the charity’s best interests

When making decisions on behalf of the charity, a proficient Trustee should be mindful that they accept majority decisions and that they are not serving their own personal interests. It is vital that Trustees are prepared to question and challenge their fellow trustees and make balanced informed decisions. You must declare conflicts of interest when appropriate to do so and ensure that Trustee benefits are allowed.

Ensure the charity is accountable

Accountability should be welcomed by Trustees as an opportunity, not a burden. It is crucial that Trustees are accountable to other members of the charity and those with an interest in the charity. Trustees have to ensure that the charity is meeting the reporting requirements which are expected of them. They must guarantee that the charity is compliant with all relevant laws and that accounts are submitted on time. Trustees must also recognise that staff and volunteers are accountable to the board.

Manage the charity’s resources responsibly

The Trustees will regularly have to deal with the charity’s land and buildings and it is therefore important that the Trustees follow appropriate controls and procedures. It is imperative that the Trustee manages risk and protects the charity’s assets and people. This includes preserving a good reputation for the charity. If a Trustee feels that the charity is under resourced, the Trustee must take reasonable steps to resolve this.

Act with reasonable care and skill

In order to carry out your role as a Trustee to the best of your ability, you should ensure that you prepare for meetings and have all the information required. It is good practice for a Trustee to acknowledge they need to take advice on a decision before voting on a particular matter. Furthermore, Trustees should always use their skills and experience to the best of their ability when performing their duties.

The Chair’s Role and Responsibilities

The chair is usually elected or appointed to this role by other Trustees or by the rules set out in the charity’s governing documentation. The main role of the chair is to chair the charity’s meetings. Some charities require the chair to take on additional roles if authorised to do so. This can include

  • Acting as a channel of communication between the Trustees and staff.
  • Supervising staff
  • Taking on the figurehead role of the charity which includes representation at events, other meetings or press releases.
  • Taking urgent action when necessary to do so if a meeting would is not possible or practical.
  • Developing the board and ensuring that decisions are actioned.
  • It should be highlighted that these roles are not exclusive to the chair and you may find on other charity boards a Trustee takes on these responsibilities.

Voting Rights

Trustees should be aware that voting arrangements vary between charities and the nature of the meeting that is being held. A diligent Trustee should refer to the charitys’ governing document for specific instructions with regards to voting. Generally, at charity meetings it is only the Trustees who vote on decisions. If the governing documentation allows, if the vote is evenly split, the Chair can make a second casting vote to decide the matter. A show of hands is usually the way in which voting takes place but if this is not satisfactory a poll can be used.

The Team at Wilson Browne have for many years acted as clerks and Trustees for a number of charities and voluntary organisations some of which manage multi-million-pound funds.  To find out more, call us for a no-obligation discussion.

Beth Kay


Beth Kay


Beth is a member of our Private Client Team and a FCILEx (Fellow – Chartered Legal Executives). CILEX Fellowship Grade offers Chartered Legal Executives ‘Authorised Person’ status with independent regulation. Since joining the firm in 2015, Beth has considerable experience of dealing with all manner…