Being appointed a charity trustee comes with a high level of responsibility. Following steps to ensure good practice at all levels means that you can be confident of not being accused of poor governance, should your charity come under scrutiny by the Charity Commission.
Here are the top ten golden rules for every charity trustee to follow to help ensure you fulfil your duties.
1. File annual accounts on time
Ensure that your charity’s annual accounts are filed on time. The time limit is nine months from the accounting year end at Companies House for a charitable company and 10 months from the accounting year end at the Charity Commission for an unincorporated association or a CIO. It is the responsibility of all trustees to ensure this happens. Failure to file on time for two years is likely to result in a ‘double default’ enquiry. Such behaviour is an indication of poor governance.
2. Examine the accounts
Ensure that the accounts are examined by an independent examiner or auditor prior to submission to the relevant authorities. The level of scrutiny required is determined by the gross income of the charity in the accounting period.
3. File annual returns on time
Ensure the charity’s annual return is filed on time with the Charity Commission. Again, this is the responsibility of all trustees.
4. Record meetings
Ensure that minutes are taken at all trustee meetings to record any decisions that have been taken. These minutes need to be retained and made available to the independent examiner or auditor to assist in their work. Minutes of subcommittees should be recorded and reported to the main board meeting.
5. Ensure your trustees are eligible
Ensure that all trustees are eligible to be trustees. It is good practice for trustees to complete an eligibility document when they are appointed, and every year after. Ensure that all senior management complete the eligibility document and consider making its completion part of the terms of employment.
6. Record trustees’ other interests
At least once a year, each trustee should record their other interests, business, family interests and family business on a register to be attached to the minutes of the meeting.
7. Record any potential conflicts for trustees
At each meeting of the trustees, ensure that any potential conflict for a trustee is recorded. The trustee should preferably withdraw from the meeting when the agenda item is raised, which should be recorded along with their return to the meeting. This means they cannot be seen to be influencing the trustees’ decision.
8. Review objects of the charity
Ensure that the objects of the charity are reviewed regularly - at least once per year. This should consider whether the objects are still relevant, are too restrictive, and whether alterations should be made.
9. Review financial procedures
Review the financial procedures of the charity to make sure that risk of misappropriation of funds is reduced. Do not sign blank cheques, always ask to see reconciliations and, where possible, arrange for tasks to be reviewed. Also ensure you have regular financial reports at trustee meetings.
10. Act in the best interest of the charity
Act in the best interest of the charity at all times. A trustee is a person who has been entrusted to the position and is also responsible for funds raised for the benefit of others.
The above list is not exhaustive, but adhering to these points will help your charity to avoid being accused of poor governance and, possibly, the subject of an investigation by the Charity Commission.
Steve Cresswell, Partner