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Webinar: Trustee responsibilities

As part of our commitment to support organisations to meet the fundraising standards in the Code of Fundraising Practice, we have produced this webinar to help you understand what a charity trustee does and what their responsibilities are with regards to fundraising.

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Trustees take ultimate responsibility for the fundraising activities of their charity. Trustees need to be familiar with the fundraising standards, which are set out in the Code of Fundraising Practice.

This webinar may be especially helpful for people who are considering applying to become a charity trustee, or who have been newly appointed as a trustee, as an introduction to the fundraising standards and trustee responsibilities with regards to fundraising. Charities are welcome to use this material as part of their board induction and training.

Got feedback? Contact us through our enquiries form to let us know your thoughts on this video and what other topics will be helpful to explore in future webinars.

Transcript

Welcome to this webinar on ‘Trustee responsibilities’ part of our webinar series on ‘Understanding the Code of Fundraising Practice’. 

This video has been produced by the Fundraising Regulator – the independent regulator of charitable fundraising in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

By the end of this video, you should understand what a charity trustee does and what their responsibilities are when it comes to fundraising.

So, what is a trustee? 

Charity trustees are usually volunteers, who share ultimate responsibility for governing a charity and directing how it is managed and run. Depending on the size and complexity of a charity’s structure, a trustee’s role may vary. However, regardless of size, the trustee board’s main job is usually to set the direction of the charity and support its strategy, through their skills and expertise. Ultimately, trustees are legally accountable for their charity’s actions, including its fundraising.

The main duty of trustees is to advance the purposes of the charity and to always act in the charity’s best interest. If you are a trustee, or considering applying to become one, it's important that you are prepared to take ultimate responsibility for the fundraising activities of your charity. 

You are not expected to be a fundraising expert, which is why it’s important to take advice when appropriate. But you must understand the role that fundraising plays in achieving your charity’s objectives, and aware of what fundraising is being done in the charity’s name. 

Trustees also need to ensure that the charity’s assets and resources are used responsibly and only for the purposes for which the charity was set up. 

The way your charity conducts itself is important. Trustees should consider that the actions of their charity, could help to either uphold or undermine the reputation of charities more widely, and have a subsequent impact on public perceptions of trust in fundraising.

Trustees have many responsibilities directly related to fundraising. 

  • Trustees take ultimate responsibility for the fundraising activities of their charity. This is still the case, even when they have delegated these roles to paid staff or volunteers.
  • Trustees need to ensure that any risks or conflicts of interest that may arise in fundraising activities, are managed by the charity.
  • Trustees are also ultimately responsible for ensuring the charity complies with the law in the way it fundraises. This includes ensuring paid staff and volunteer fundraisers are complying with the law; meeting all legal requirements relating to data protection; ensuring agreements with third-party fundraisers are in place, and that the relevant licenses or permissions are in place for collections.
  • And finally, a trustee’s role includes considering the impact of any fundraising campaigns on the charity’s reputation, especially when the actions of their charity could have a subsequent impact on public perceptions of trust in fundraising.

To find out more about their responsibilities, trustees should carefully read the guidance available from the statutory charity regulator in their geographic area.

The statutory charity regulators register and regulate charities under charity law. They:

  • determine whether an organisation is charitable;
  • compile a public register of charities;
  • make sure charities meet their legal requirements; and,
  • work with charity trustees on issues of governance. 

Your statutory charity regulator could be:

  • the Charity Commission for England and Wales; or,
  • the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland; or,
  • the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR)

depending on where your charity operates.

Trustees also need to be familiar with the fundraising standards, which are set by the Fundraising Regulator through the Code of Fundraising Practice. The code sets out the responsibilities that apply to fundraising carried out by charitable institutions and third-party fundraisers in the UK. The standards have been developed to ensure that fundraising is legal, open, honest and respectful. You must make sure you meet the standards in the code and must be able to justify the decisions you make.

Our research shows that the public consider the role of the Fundraising Regulator and the existence of the code to be important, and that telling people about the code significantly builds up trust in fundraisers. By committing to the fundraising standards, you could improve donor confidence and access more fundraising opportunities. 

The code is available online on the Fundraising Regulator’s website. If you are unfamiliar with the code, we recommend that you also watch our webinar on introducing the code.

If you are a trustee, you should ensure that you are familiar with the principles of the Code of Fundraising Practice. This especially applies to the standards in section 2, 'responsibilities of charitable institutions and those who govern them’. This section includes standards on the:

  • General duties of trustees (in section 2.1 of the code)
  • Managing any risks fundraising poses to your charitable institution (in section 2.2)
  • Guiding decisions and policies on accepting, refusing and returning donations (in section 2.3)
  • Addressing complaints and concerns about fundraising (in section 2.4)
  • Standards on paying fundraisers (in section 2.5)
  • Legal responsibilities about making sure solicitation statements are used when necessary (in section 2.6)
  • Ensuring funds are used for the purposes for which they were given (in section 2.7)
  • As well as, legal responsibilities on charity accounting and fundraising reporting (in section 2.8).

As mentioned, trustees are ultimately responsible for ensuring the charity is compliant with the law in the way it fundraises. We use ‘must’ and ‘must not’ for all the standards in the code. 

  • Where ‘must’ and ‘must not’ are in bold text, this indicates a standard is based on a legal requirement. 
  • Where ‘must’ and ‘must not’ are not in bold, this indicates this is an ethical regulatory standard, that is not based on a strict legal requirement. 

Whether must is in bold, or not, all the standards are equal, and trust and confidence in fundraising could be undermined if they are not met.

Also, it's important to remember that whilst all fundraising must meet the requirements of the law, and the code includes standards that reflect the law, it is not designed to be a legal handbook. You are responsible for making sure that you get the advice you need to meet the requirements you have to meet by law. If there is a difference between the code and the relevant legislation or regulations, you must follow the law rather than the code.

With all this in mind, we will briefly mention some of the key considerations for trustees, to illustrate some of the varied things you will need to consider as part of your role. 

When it comes to donations and finance, for example, trustees must:

  • make sure that your charitable institution receives all the money they have raised;
  • not refuse or return donations, except in exceptional circumstances; 
  • and ensure all funds raised for a particular cause, are used for that cause, in line with any conditions made by the donor.

In the areas of accounting and tax, trustees must ensure charities:

  • meet all tax requirements if claiming Gift Aid; and
  • follow all legal accounting requirements. 

For example, your charity may be required to follow the Charity Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP). And, if your charity is registered in England and Wales and has its accounts audited (where gross income is over £1 million) you will need to comply with the Charities (Protection and Social Investments) Act 2016 which says you must include a statement on fundraising in your trustee annual report. We have produced guidance for charities on complying with the fundraising reporting requirements in Section 13 of the Charities Act 2016. You can find this on our website.

Trustees must also consider health and safety, as well as employment law. For example, you must:

  • meet any legal obligations to protect the health and safety of employees, volunteers and the public; and,
  • meet minimum wage rules (if you directly employ people to fundraise).

Trustees also have a responsibility to manage third-party relationships. For example, you must:

  • make sure that professional fundraisers, commercial participators and your own staff give solicitation statements when required;
  • make sure that relevant contracts are in place and that the activities of professional fundraisers and commercial participators are monitored. 

You should take time to read in-depth guidance and get advice, where necessary, on any of these points and any other questions you have about trustee responsibilities and charitable fundraising.

The crucial thing to note, is that if you are a trustee, you must make sure your charity meets the standards in the code and must be able to justify the decisions you make. You must make sure that your charity’s staff and volunteers are aware of the standards and ensure they are adequately trained and monitored if the standards are relevant to their responsibilities. Also, consider how you can incorporate the Code of Fundraising Practice into your organisation’s trustee induction and refresher training.

One of the ways that you can ensure the standards in the code are being met, is to include fundraising as a standing item on your charity board’s agenda. Some of the questions that charity boards should be asking about include:

  • Has the charity undertaken a risk assessment?
  • Does the charity have a policy that clearly lays out how the charity accepts or refuses and uses donations?
  • Does the charity have a publicly available procedure for handling fundraising complaints? 
  • Does the charity have the required agreements in place when working with others?

Questions like these can help you be aware of what fundraising is being done in the charity’s name.

So, to sum up: 

  • Ultimately, trustees are legally accountable for their charity’s actions, including its fundraising.
  • The main duty of trustees is to advance the purposes of the charity and to always act in the charity’s best interest. Trustees need to be familiar with the fundraising standards, which are set by the Fundraising Regulator, through the Code of Fundraising Practice. You don’t have to be a fundraising expert. But if you are a trustee, you must make sure your charity meets the standards in the code and must be able to justify the decisions you make.
  • You must also make sure that your charity’s staff and volunteers are aware of the fundraising standards, and ensure they are adequately trained and monitored if the standards are relevant to their responsibilities.

By committing to the fundraising standards in the code, you could improve donor confidence, build public trust and access more fundraising opportunities.

Thank you for watching. This video has been produced by the Fundraising Regulator, the independent regulator of charitable fundraising in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more advice and guidance about fundraising, please visit our website or phone our enquiries line.

Further reading

England and Wales

If you are a charity established in England and Wales, you can find guidance in the Charity Governance Code and in the Charity Commission for England and Wales’s guidance for trustees (CC20) and essential trustee guide (CC3).

Scotland

If you are a charity registered in Scotland, the Scottish Charity Regulator’s (OSCR’s) Fundraising guidance for Charity Trustees provides information on the legal requirements of Scottish charity law in relation to fundraising and the duties of charity trustees. You can find more information in OSCR’s Guidance and Good Practice for Charity Trustees and the Scottish Governance Code.

Northern Ireland

If you are a charity registered in Northern Ireland, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland’s (CCNI’s) guidance Fundraising for Charities, its bitesize guidance Fundraising at a Glance – a guide for charity trustees provides information on the legal requirements and good practice in relation to fundraising and the duties of charity trustees. You can find more information in CCNI’s Running your Charity guidance which sets out the principles and main elements of good governance for the trustees of charities in Northern Ireland.