How to become a trustee

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Trustees UnlimitedBecoming a trustee is a great way to support a cause you’re passionate about while learning some fantastic new skills.

Many people aren’t aware that trustee positions exist, yet they play an essential role in making sure that a charity is as efficient and effective as possible.

So what exactly does a trustee do and how easy is it to get started?

To help answer these questions, we’ve partnered with Trustees Unlimited – one of the UK’s leading trustees and board recruitment agencies – to bring you all the information you need to start your journey into trusteeship.

Trustees Unlimited’s mission is to connect passionate individuals with impactful charities, and foster positive change in communities around the world. Their platform offers people a wide range of projects and volunteer opportunities, which can help to unleash their potential, contribute their skills, and become part of transformative initiatives.

What is a trustee?

Trustees are the volunteers who lead charities and make decisions about how they’re run. They may be known as trustees, directors, board members, governors, committee members or something else.

Being a trustee is like being a non-executive director of a company. They make sure that a charity is well run, complies with all relevant laws, is in good financial shape and, importantly, delivers its charitable goals to the best of its ability.

One way trustees do this is by supporting and challenging the management team (where there is one) on strategy and key decisions.

Trustees work together as part of a board, which is collectively responsible for complying with various duties – such as making sure that a charity is carrying out its purposes for public benefit.

While a trustee board shouldn’t interfere inappropriately in the day-to-day operations of a charity, they may get more involved from time to time, particularly in small charities.

Who can become a trustee?

Anyone can become a trustee – regardless of whether you’re in paid employment or not, or in a junior or senior role. Applications are also open to people of all ages, ethnicities, sexualities, gender orientations, and classes.

At present, there are around 800,000 trustee positions in the UK. 48% of these are female and 66% are over 50 – though, it’s worth highlighting that young people can make great trustees and should be encouraged to join boards too.

While there are no specific skills and experience needed to become a trustee, an effective board will need to have a diverse array of skills, knowledge, qualities, and experiences to carry out their collective responsibilities.

These may include…

  • ‘Hard’ skills, such as legal or financial knowledge, and an understanding of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) principles and processes.
  • ‘Soft’ skills, including teamwork and negotiation abilities.
  • Knowledge of the community or services provided by the charity.
  • Life experience related to the cause.

What will I love about becoming a trustee?

  • Being trusted to act in the best interest of the charity and of those benefiting from it.

  • Giving something back to a cause you care about can be immensely fulfilling; trusteeship allows you to align your values with meaningful actions.

  • Putting your life experience and professional skills to good use and gaining insight into how charities are run. You’ll also get to learn from other trustees and gain extensive leadership skills.

  • Trusteeship connects you with a diverse network of professionals, fellow trustees, and stakeholders. This network can expand your contacts, opening doors to new opportunities and collaborations.

Are there any challenges for trustees?

  • Trusteeship involves a lot of work and responsibility. Those who don’t fulfil their duties properly can be held responsible for any losses the charity faces.
  • Trustees don’t receive payment or personal benefits. However, the role is still incredibly rewarding, as your efforts are directed towards benefiting others.
  • Trusteeship is a long-term commitment – usually between two and four years initially.

How much time does it take to be a trustee?

The amount of time a person gives to a trustee role can vary from charity to charity, so it’s best to make sure that you understand what’s expected of you before you accept a position.

It’s worth finding out things like how many meetings there are each year, and when and where they are held – as well as how much contact there is in between meetings and how this will all take place.

Typically you can expect to spend 1 to 2 days per month fulfilling the role.

Does becoming a trustee offer any opportunities for progression?

While trustee roles are unpaid, they do offer rich opportunities in terms of learning and development.

These may include…

  • Leadership development – you’ll get to contribute to strategic decision-making, which can boost confidence and leadership ability in certain situations. Trusteeship also exposes you to governance principles, legal responsibilities, and ethical considerations, which are transferable and applicable to various leadership contexts.
  • Sector knowledge – trustees gain insight into the inner workings of the nonprofit or charitable sector. This understanding can be advantageous if you plan to pursue a career in this field or if you’re already part of it.
  • Advocacy and public speaking – engaging with stakeholders and representing the charity can hone your advocacy and public speaking skills, which are valuable in many aspects of work and life.
  • Learning and training – charities often provide training opportunities for trustees. These can include workshops on financial management, governance, and leadership, adding to your skill set.
  • Board leadership roles – as you gain experience as a trustee, you might progress to leadership roles within the board, such as chair or vice-chair. These roles offer increased responsibility and visibility.
  • Building a portfolio – if you’re considering a career change or enhancing your CV, trusteeship demonstrates your commitment to leadership, community engagement, and social responsibility.

Hear first-hand from Kate what it’s like to volunteer as a trustee

After 30 years working in the Civil Service, Kate Caulkin found the right trustee role for her by joining Trustee Unlimited’s Step On Board Programme (which we’ll explain more about below).

How do I get started as a trustee?

How do I get started as a trustee

If you’re interested in getting started as a trustee, it’s best to first think about what cause or injustice you’re passionate about, as this can help you decide what kind of charity you might like to volunteer with.

If you’re struggling to narrow down what you enjoy working on, you might find it useful to work in reverse – and sideline any options that aren’t that you don’t find particularly interesting. It’s important to take your time with this step. You’ll be dedicating a considerable amount of time to your chosen cause, so it needs to be something that you’ll care about both now and in the future.

When you’re ready to apply for trustee roles, Trustees Unlimited can help you connect with impactful charities.

By registering with SNAP – their advanced trustee matching service – you can be paired as closely as possible with charities that match your interests.

SNAP works by quickly analysing preferences from charities and candidates using a weighted scoring system to only show you roles with charities that you have a lot in common with. This means you don’t have to spend ages trawling through hundreds of unsuitable roles, and makes the chances of successful applications and appointments more likely.

If you’d like more support in your journey to becoming a trustee, you might also be interested in Trustees Unlimited’s comprehensive, tailored programme called Step on Board.

Step on Board can provide you with information, skills-matching, and coaching to help you develop and thrive as a trustee, while enabling you to make a positive impact on the charities and causes you feel passionate about.

The programme is initially centred around helping you to become a trustee by providing information on the charity landscape and the responsibilities of charity boards.

But, later, you’ll also be offered a one-to-one coaching and diagnostic session, designed to identify your strengths, passions, and priorities – followed by six months of active search to help match you with the right trustee opportunity.

Interested in exploring other volunteering roles? Head over to the volunteering section of our website where you can browse opportunities near you.

Why volunteer later in life?

More and more people are finding satisfaction in Volunteering. Find out why you should become a volunteer and the benefits it can bring.

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