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Being a Charity Trustee - Busting the Myths

Posted 10 months ago By Lynn Cadman

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As Trustees' Week 2018 begins we thought we’d correct a few of the myths surrounding trusteeship…

Myth no.1: Trusteeship is only for people in senior professional roles or who are retired

Ok so it’s correct that the average trustee is aged 60-62 and that 60% of trustees have a professional qualification (according to Taken on Trust (2017)).  However, that doesn’t mean that trusteeship is only open to this group. 

Individuals from all walks of life have experience, ideas, enthusiasm and expertise that can benefit a charity. You don’t have to have had a long and distinguished career to make a valuable contribution to a charity’s leadership at board level.

Myth no. 2: You have to be visionary or a people person to be a good trustee

It is important for charities to have clear vision and to be prepared to take risks, qualities often associated with an entrepreneurial spirit.  And charities also need trustees who will be committed to the wellbeing of staff, volunteers and the people the charity is set up to support.  But charity boards – like any team – need a mixture of people with different personal qualities.  So if you’re less empathetic but are great at staying focussed on targets you will also have something to offer as a trustee.  Equally, charities need trustees with excellent attention to detail to compliment those who see the big picture.  The key is to have a mix of different personality types that complement one another.

Want to know more about how your personality type might fit a charity board? Check out the ‘personality type’ quiz at www.trusteesweek.org.   

Myth no. 3: Personal liability is a big risk

The risk of personal liability often puts people off becoming a trustee.  It is possible for trustees to be held personally liable: to the charity, if they cause a financial loss by failing to comply with their duties; or to a third party if they make a claim against the trustees personally or against the charity which it can’t meet.  However, it is incredibly rare for such instances to arise.  The risks can also be mitigated: by becoming a trustee of an incorporated charity, which has limited liability; by taking out trustee indemnity insurance; and by making sure you understand and comply with your duties as a trustee.    

Myth no. 4: Being a trustee takes up all your time

Taken on Trust found the average trustee spent 5 hours per week fulfilling their role.  But other research suggests it can equate to around 30 hours per year.  Trusteeship is a commitment and you need to give an appropriate amount of time and attention to fulfil the role properly.  But the actual time involved will depend on the charity and what you’re able to offer.  Having clear, mutual expectations and being up-front about what you can commit to, means you can find a rewarding trustee role that fits the time-slot you have.

Myth no. 5: Trusteeship is by ‘invitation only’

Traditionally charities have tended to recruit trustees through existing networks and word of mouth.  However, trusteeship isn’t a closed shop and you may well have skills, experience or other attributes that a charity really needs.  Advertising openly for trustees is becoming increasingly common, as charities look to diversify their boards, ensure they’re more representative of the communities they serve, and find people with the range of skills they need.  You don’t need to have an existing relationship with a charity to become a trustee.  90% of trustees say they find the role personally rewarding; that’s one statistic worth exploring.    

Take a look on ICAEW Volunteers for a range of charities looking for trustees with finance and business skills and apply to be a trustee today.