Charities – your chance to contribute as a trustee
Essex Life gives great coverage on a monthly basis to charity events within the County and those who run such charities and such events are special people with special skills but it is important that they are supported and regulated by general Charity Law by the Memorandum and Articles or rules of their charity as interpreted and implemented by the charity’s trustees. The position of a trustee of a charity is an important one that can give you the opportunity to enable those running a charity to exercise their skills in a safe legal and ethical manner with the assistance and input of the varied skills of the trustees.
The most common form of charity is one set up by way of company often limited by guarantee but some charities are set up as trusts or associations.
The major duties of a trustee are to act in the charities best interests in good faith and within the powers of the charity and in particular to deal with any conflicts of interest. Trustees must manage the charities resources responsibly which means they must implement appropriate financial controls and manage risks and act with reasonable care and skill and trustees who act in breach of their legal duties can be held responsible for consequences that flow from such a breach and for any loss the charity incurs as a result.
It is important that the trustees of a charity make sure that the charity is carrying out the purposes for which it is set up and no other purpose. If you feel that the objects of the charity are too narrow then you should seek to amend them by application to the Charities Commission and by subsequent amendment of the charities objects. It is important above all that charity trustees comply with the charity’s governing documents and the law and always act in the charity’s best interests and manage the charity’s resources responsibly. Trustees should act with reasonable care and skill and ensure accountability.
When recruiting new trustees charities should look for the skills and experience the current trustees have and whether there are any gaps and must make sure that new trustees do not have serious conflicts of interest and understand their responsibility in the charity’s work.
Most importantly of all you should review the Charities Memorandum and Articles and objects regularly and ensure your charity is carrying out its purpose for the public benefit. It is important that you read and understand the objects clause in the charities governing document and ensure you understand what the charity is set up to achieve (its purposes) and who the charity is there to be benefit (its Beneficiaries) and how they will benefit. All charities must be for the public benefit.
The Board of Trustees should establish a risk policy and should budget prudently. Charity trustees can often assist greatly by helping with the income generation of the charity both by providing ideas and contacts.
It is important that there are effective safeguards in place for handling and keeping money and if the charity owns any property it must be properly maintained and correctly used. It is important that adequate safeguards are in place to make sure the charity complies with all relevant law including employment law and that volunteers are properly looked after. Above all trustees must act with reasonable skill and care and take advice from professionals when they are required to.
Trustees can be held liable to their charity for any financial loss they cause or help to cause but the law generally protects trustees who acted honestly and reasonably from personal liability.
This article is simply a summary and further information is available on the Charity Commissions website. In case of doubt charities should feel free to seek professional advice.
As a trustee you will widen your horizons and establish valuable friendships which will enrich your life as well as those of others.