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The unseen work of charities and their trustees

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As a charity lawyer I never cease to be amazed by the number of charities operating in and around Lincolnshire. Just before Christmas my firm had the opportunity to talk to trustees and volunteers of a number of those charities. We talked about the new legal rules relating to charities, guidance from the charity commission and how they should organise their charity to make sure it operates to provide a great service to those who rely on it.

I think that we all overlook the effort that is put into charities by trustees and volunteers, and we forget that actually there are some very serious legal consequences if they get it wrong. I’m sure that most people reading this will be able to think of cases in the media where there have been criminal investigations into charities who have seemingly got things very wrong. When you are asked to act as a trustee and you say yes, you probably have no idea what you are letting yourself in for!

I thought it might be interesting to hear about some of the things we talked to Lincolnshire Rural Support Network (LRSN) and other charities about so that you have an idea of some of the administrative requirements placed on the charity and their trustees behind the scenes.

We talked about how charities operate – for instance having to hold regular meetings to record the decisions they make and how those decisions are reached. A cornerstone of charity law is that all actions and decisions must be able to be shown to be ‘in the best interest’ of the charity. Trustees have to hold registers and records showing how they have considered whether a particular decision meets this requirement.

When you run a charity and are a trustee you cannot benefit anyone other than the charity itself. There can be no personal benefit – this seems like a simple thing to suggest and common sense,  but consider a situation where a charity rents an office space to hold their meetings – if the person who is letting the office space is connected to the charity, or is a trustee, then there are rules about how this must be reported.  

Charity trustees hold an important role and they are accountable to a regulator; the Charity Commission. The regulator will make compliance checks to ensure that trustees are acting within the law and that they are managing risks to the charity itself. We are all increasingly aware of cyber crime and financial scams – charities are increasingly targeted by fraudsters and have to make sure they have considered how to address these kinds of risks so that they can continue to deliver a great service to the people who need their support.

Running a charity is not an easy job to do by any means and the trustees who give up their time to do so often don’t get the recognition they deserve. One commentator recently said when talking about trustees and charities that “It is no longer enough to simply do good, all Charities must be seen to do good” – LRSN are here doing such a fantastic job supporting farming families we were pleased to be able to return that support to them in the form of updated guidance.