Understanding the responsibilities and liabilities of becoming a charity trustee
May 2024
Employment & HR

Understanding the responsibilities and liabilities of becoming a charity trustee

Trustees play a key role in ensuring that charities’ operations are always carried out as they should be as they have ultimate responsibility for the affairs of their charity.

The professional and leadership expertise they offer on a voluntary basis is also often crucial to a charity’s success.

Anyone can become a charity trustee, subject to certain limited exclusions, and it’s estimated there are around one million of them in the UK. However, it is not a role to be taken on without proper consideration, as it comes with a range of practical and legal responsibilities.

Trustees must ensure a charity is solvent, well run and delivering its charitable outcomes for the benefit of the public. They can incur personal liabilities from their role, particularly if they allow their charity to ‘mission drift,’ so that it is not being run to achieve its intended charitable purposes.

Trustees must also ensure they and their charities comply with their charities’ governing documents and their legal duties, and for anyone taking on such a role, familiarising themselves with the often-onerous obligations of the Charity Commission is advisable.

Trustees must always act in a charity’s best interests, deciding what will best enable the organisation to carry out its charitable purposes, and they must act responsibly, reasonably and honestly in managing the charity’s resources.

This is done by ensuring inappropriate risks aren’t taken with its assets or reputation, that it doesn’t overstretch itself financially and that particular care is taken when investing or borrowing. Avoiding conflicts of interest is absolutely essential!

The personal commitment required to carry out the role also needs to be considered, in terms of preparing for, attending and actively participating in trustees’ meetings, as well as fulfilling whatever other responsibilities you’re asked to take on.

Trustees are regularly asked to sit on sub-committees and it is important that they don’t consider their roles to be box-ticking exercises – hands on involvement is very much required.

Becoming a charity trustee can be an immensely rewarding experience, but there is a great deal of personal accountability that goes with it and it’s essential that anyone taking on this role does so with all of the required information and facts at hand.

Hay & Kilner offers a comprehensive training package which provides detailed guidance on charity trustees’ legal responsibilities and liabilities, as well as practical ideas and strategies to support them in their role.

Get in touch with Sarah Furness for further information.

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‘Hay & Kilner’ and ‘Hay & Kilner Law Firm’ are both trading names of Hay & Kilner LLP, a limited liability partnership registered in England & Wales with registered number OC418767. Our registered office is at The Lumen, St James' Boulevard, Newcastle Helix, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 5BZ and we are authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (Authorisation number 643191). We use the word ‘partner’ to refer to a member of Hay & Kilner LLP. A list of the members is available at our registered office.