Do's and Don'ts for New Charity Trustees

By: Jade Cayton-Toole / Charity Development / 9 months before
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Ten Tips for New Charity Trustees

1.    DO ask for a jargon buster before you attend your first board meeting – charity employees and trustees love to speak in acronyms (NATO) and initialisms (NSPCC) which can make your first meeting very daunting and shake your confidence.  Ask the secretary for a list of all abbreviations used and their meanings before the meeting, this will boost your confidence and make it more likely that you will be able to contribute.

2.    DO get involved in recruitment – sitting on a recruitment panel is one of the best ways to get to know key employees and services well.  Not only do you get to spend an intensive day with other panel members which is a great relationship building tool, you also get to have a hand in recruiting a new member of staff which will help you to feel like you’ve made a real contribution and known a staff member from day one.

3.    DO become a headline expert – nobody expects you to know everything about your charity from day one, however you will find that your charity work is interesting to all sorts of people so be prepared to talk confidently about the cause at any time.    Memorise some key points and statistics, be able to talk about who the beneficiaries are, why they need support and how people can help.  

4.    DO be clear about how you want to help – If you are a finance assistant by day but what you really want to do is work with people with special needs, don’t offer to be the treasurer it won’t motivate or excite you any more than your day job.  Perhaps you would be more suited to volunteering at a day centre, most skills are transferable.  On the other hand, if balance sheets do excite you there is always a shortage of good treasurers!

5.    DO keep a respectful distance – there is nothing worse than a Trustee who thinks its ok to pop in unannounced to do some photocopying, have a brew or to check up on a task.  It’s likely the staff will find time for you and be polite, but I can guarantee behind the scenes it won’t be appreciated.  Trustees need to be visible and interested but for the sake of harmony always call ahead and check it’s convenient.

6.    DON’T just do it for your career – if your only motivation is furthering your career or improving your CV you will quickly lose interest and motivation.  Always choose a cause that means something to you, that way you will quickly gain respect from fellow board members and staff, and be given the roles that will gain you new skills and contacts.

7.    DON’T invite yourself to socials – it’s always good to have organised trustee/employee time, the right forum for this could be a planning day with a less formal lunch or meal afterwards.  Don’t invite yourself to the staff Christmas Party unless you are genuinely asked to be there, it won’t build relationships and you’ll lose respect.  

8.    DON’T try to be a paid worker – if you find yourself regularly doing the photocopying or stuffing envelopes it may be that there is a lack of clarity about your role.  We all help at busy times but if this is the core of what you do then you are getting it wrong.  Trustees are there to ensure that the charity is correctly managed and governed, your time is best spent on planning, strategy and risk management.

9.    DON’T make friends with the staff or service users – everyone wants to be liked, but in this relationship mutual respect rather than friendship should be your aim.  You never know when you might be expected to formally challenge someone’s performance, that’s never easy but almost impossible if you have a personal relationship.  Make sure you are aware of the policies and procedures around interacting with service users and stick to them, safeguarding principles are for your protection too.

10.    DON’T forget what it felt like to be new – sooner or later you won’t be the new person in the board room anymore.  New trustees are valuable commodities, so never forget what it felt like to walk into that room for the first time.  Always go out of your way to make new trustees feel comfortable and welcome.  There’s nothing worse than sitting there whilst people who have known each other for years make in jokes and expect you to ‘pick it up’ as you go along.


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Founder My Charity Marketplace

Chair Salford Women’s Aid