Why become a charity trustee?

Written by: Kristina Kopic, Head of Charity and Voluntary Sector, ICAEW
Published on: 23 Jan 2023

Want to enhance your CV and support a cause that’s close to your heart? Then why not join a charity board?

Most charities are keen to recruit a chartered accountant to their board because financial skills and business acumen are invaluable to setting a charity’s financial strategy. In return, most trustees find their role rewarding, and enjoy learning new skills and broadening their networks. It also boosts your CV and gives you the opportunity to build leadership skills early in your career. This can be helpful in job interviews as you can bring your non-executive leadership perspective to complement your professional experience.

Here are some of my top tips on how to find the right role, manage your risks, and add value from the get-go. 

What exactly are your responsibilities as a trustee? 

Charity trustees share ultimate responsibility for governing a charity and directing how it is managed and run. This may sound daunting but there’s plenty of great guidance available. To get you started, we have created a free online course with charity sector experts to provide an overview of trustees’ responsibilities and you can access the ICAEW Trustee training free of charge.

Finding the right trustee role 

You can browse trustee vacancies on ICAEW Volunteers to explore a variety of charities and roles before you decide to apply for a role. Joining a trustee board is usually a multi-year commitment, so choose a charity whose work resonates with you. Many charities are seeking to diversify their boards and are keen to recruit trustees that can bring fresh perspective, so don’t worry if you are at the start of your career.

Vacancies are usually advertised with a role description, a person specification and an introduction to the charity’s work and governance. Read this carefully, because trustee roles can vary depending on the charity’s size and activities, and the advertisement will explain the commitment and skills that suitable candidates are asked to bring. Many charities will be open to have an informal chat with you before you apply, so don’t be shy to reach out and ask.

Typically, charities will ask you to apply with your CV and a cover letter, explaining why you are interested in the role and what makes you a good fit.

If you are invited for an interview, use your professional skills and review the charity’s accounts and website in advance to learn more about the charity’s financial situation, activities, and strategic priorities, and so that you can ask informed questions. The interview is an opportunity to find out more about the charity’s work and the requirements of the role, so come armed with questions. If the charity offers you the trustee role, you will often be able to join the next board meeting as an observer. This will enable you to judge whether your skills and personal background would add diversity to the board composition and to see if you like the board’s culture.

A good induction makes for a successful start

Don’t forget to ask about the induction process that you will receive to help you settle in the role. This should include receiving a welcome pack of information, including a copy of the charity’s governing document, which provides clarity over the boundaries in which the charity can legally operate. Ask if the charity offers trustee indemnity insurance, particularly if the charity in unincorporated, as that will help manage your risk.

It’s important that you know how much time you can realistically give to the role and see if this matches the charity’s expectations. Depending on the size and staffing levels of the charity, the time commitments and expectations can vary significantly, and you should be clear whether you can fulfil your role responsibly before you agree to join a board. Some charities ask trustees to join sub-committees and you’ll need to understand if you can juggle the commitments of the role with paid employment.

How to keep your knowledge up to date

ICAEW’s Charity Community helps you stay up to date with vital updates on accounting, governance, tax and regulatory developments to support you in your trustee journey. Join to receive regular e-newsletters and invites to free webinars and events. We also have a LinkedIn Group to help you connect with like-minded members. Join us there.

Finally, we would like to hear about your trustee experience and learn how we can best support you in the role. You can contact me by email or connect with me on LinkedIn. I look forward to hearing from you!