Trustees Week 2020 – What’s new to read and action

Helen Oparinde, Development Officer in VAL’s Voluntary Sector Support team, took time out to chat virtually with Nick Mott Head of Guidance & Practice of the Charity Commission about their plans to launch some new trustee guidance during Trustees Week.

The Charity Commission is the regulator of charities in England and Wales and they maintain the charity register. They are an independent, non-ministerial government department accountable to Parliament.

Redesigning the charity commission trustee guidance

Whilst over 40% of trustees use the Charity Commission guidance at least once a year; that means over 60% of trustees are presently not using any of the guidance. The overall vision of redesigning the guidance is to make it easier so that a larger percentage will read and utilise their guidance more.

A new set of 5 minute guides have been produced which will consist of:

  • Maximum 1000 words, with the idea that amount of wording should take 5 minutes to read
  • Prioritising the issues most readers need to know about – specifically the 6 key duties of a trustee as described in the Essential Trustee CC3 guidance
  • Accessible language to make it easier for trustees who have English as a second language
  • Mix of principle and practical to help trustees who may want or need a refresher
  • A clear ‘call to action’ – what should the reader do as a result of the guidance

The guides have gone through a user testing approach, including VAL providing feedback from a Development Officer perspective. Of the 764 trustees across its jurisdiction that were involved in the user feedback:

  • 85% found the guides easy to understand
  • 92% would recommend the guide to other trustees
  • 82% would use them again

The guides are split into the topics of:

  • Finance
  • Purposes and Rules
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Relationship with Charity Commission
  • Decision making

Managing Charity Finances

The first 5 minute guide, Managing charity finances, recommends trustees to use the internal finance checklist to protect your charity’s money to help make sure it is secure and recorded, only spent on your charitable purposes, and is at less risk of theft or fraud.

The guide prompts trustees to know your charity’s financial position, by setting a budget and following it. This will make sure you have realistic plans based on how much money, your charity has, plans to make and plans to spend each year. Reference to the National Council for Voluntary Organisation’s (NCVO) budgeting guide is mentioned in the guide which explains charity budgeting and planning in more detail such as accounting records.

If you would like to know more about financial management why not book on VAL’s Introduction to Financial Management training.

Charity Purposes and Rules

The 5 minute guide Charity purposes and rules concentrates on making sure trustees utilise their governing document, in order that they understand the rules in their charity’s governing document and being aware that those decisions could be challenged if they aren’t followed.

Reminding trustees that the charity must do what it is set up for and not do things that further other purposes. In VAL’s blog fundraising during challenging times we reiterated that if charities needed to revise existing plans to adapt to the pandemic then this needs to be taken into account.

The 5 minute guide concludes with explaining that trustees should make reasonable steps to understand what laws apply to your charity, explaining that charities are also subject to general laws such as equality, tax, data protection, and health and safety. VAL can provide advice on writing policies and procedures to keep your charity complaint with the law – just send us a message. If using the online contact form, use support for your voluntary organisation in the reason for contact drop down box.

Managing conflicts of interest in a charity

The 5 minute guide Managing conflicts of interest in a charity clarifies the difference between a financial conflict and a loyalty conflict.

A financial conflict is when a trustee, or person or organisation connected to them, could get money or something else of value from a trustee decision, such as buying goods from a business owned by the trustee or paying the trustee for doing their trustee role (more than their expenses).

Loyalty conflicts are different in that they don’t relate to conflicts of money or other trustee benefits. They happen when a trustee might not be able to make decisions that are best for your charity, such as if the charity’s decision involves another charity where they are a trustee or a charity decision might involve their relatives or friends.

It’s not wrong to have those conflicts, but they do need to be managed properly. You can manage those conflicts by having a conflict of interest policy and using the policy practically, such as a standing item on your trustee board agenda enabling trustees to declare a conflict of interest prior to topics being discussed during the meeting.

The Chartered Governance Institute, known as ICSA: The Institute for Chartered Secretaries and Administrators until 2019, was founded in 1891 to represent the interests of the emerging profession of corporation secretaries. Their specimen conflict of interest policy, declaration form and register of interests for charity trustees can be accessed by setting up an account, logging in and downloading the guidance. (There is an option for a free subscription with them.) The policy covers financial conflict and briefly loyalty conflict.

What to send to the Charity Commission and how to get help

The 5 minute guide What to send to the Charity Commission and how to get help reminds trustees that your charity’s entry on the register is public information. It must by law always be up-to-date.

In VAL’s blog Charity Commission Annual Public Meeting 2020 – what should we action?, the new online register of charities was introduced, explaining what trustees need to check and update.

Knowing when your charity needs permission from the Charity Commission to do something is covered in the 5 minute guide. Such as changes to its governing document, payment to a trustee or someone connected to them (but not expenses), buying, selling or leasing land from / to anyone connected with the charity and spending money or sell land (without replacement) that the charity should keep forever (‘permanent endowment’).

Reference of the Information Commissioner’s Office is also mentioned in the guide on how to keep personal information about your charity’s staff, volunteers or donors safe.

Making decisions at a charity

The final 5 minute guide Making decisions at a charity points out that as trustees you should attend as many trustee meetings as possible and make your decisions together. This is because every trustee, including anyone absent is responsible for any decisions and must support and carry decisions out.

The guide expands on this topic by saying that if an individual trustee, strongly disagrees with a decision, then it is best to share your views and any information and knowledge you have with the other trustees, ask for your disagreement to be recorded. However you must follow a valid decision even if you disagree with it, and if you can’t do that, you should consider resigning. Collective decision making is a real skill for your role as a trustee.

As part of trustee week, Getting on Board, a registered charity which exists to strengthen society by increasing charities’ ability to attract diverse trustees and to build strong boards, is launching a free new guide called How to become a charity trustee. In the guide it refers to the importance of a well-managed charity, with a diverse board of trustees bringing together different skills, experience and knowledge which helps charities make more informed decisions. Their research in August 2020 showed that 35% of charities are concerned (up 6% compared to 2019) about a lack of trustee diversity. Without this diversity, charities feel they run the risk of being out of touch with current and future beneficiaries and supporters.

If you would like help with increasing the diversity of your board, why not register to advertise your trustee vacancies with VAL for free.

If you would like to find out more about becoming a trustee why not read the new get on board guide, read the blog by VAL’s trustee Mohamed Esat or get in touch with VAL to discuss it further. If using the online form select volunteering in the reason for contact section.

Specialist guidance

Going forward, the Charity Commission guidance will also include specialist guidance which is accessible but more detailed covering common issues such as reserves, safeguarding, risk management, and governance, as well as issues relevant to some but not all charities such as fundraising, investments, trading and, land.

VAL would be keen to hear how you get on with the new 5 minute guides. If you want any advice on how to utilise them in trustee board meetings, how you can use them to resolve any issue in your charity etc. then please get in touch. If using the online contact form, use support for your voluntary organisation in the reason for contact drop down box.

Helen Oparinde

Helen Oparinde is a Development Officer for VAL as part of the Voluntary Sector Support team. Helen is an expert in charity governance and provides face-to-face and telephone advice to local charities and community groups. You can contact Helen at