5 Challenges of Being a Charity Trustee and How to Overcome Them

24 April 2024 | By Thomas Williams


Is it hard being a trustee?

This is a very common question. Whilst many people know that charitable organisations across the UK are governed and supported by a Board of Trustees, far fewer people have a good understanding of what the board and trustees actually do. That is where we come in; this blog offers five key points of consideration for those preparing to undertake a trustee role, detailing the responsibilities and challenges trustees face, and the online training and resources available.

1. Understanding the role of a Charity Trustee

Understanding what a charity trustee does is an essential starting point for any current or prospective trustees. 

In short, a trustee is responsible for the running of a charity. Trustees work together as a board to decide the direction of a charity, oversee its operation, and ensure its legal and financial compliance. Sound like a lot? Here are a few things that might reassure you:.

  • Trustees are not expected, or allowed, to make decisions on their own. In normal operations, the board of trustees must make decisions collectively and work together the reach the best outcome. Occasionally, an individual may be authorised by the board to make a decision on behalf of the other trustees, but this is rare and requires prior trustee agreement. 
  • Trustee boards are comprised of individuals with differing and complementary skills. This means that if you are not an expert on financial matters, there should be an existing trustee (the treasurer) with expertise in this area. Whilst this does not mean they are solely responsible for these matters, (see point 1), they nevertheless can take the lead and guide other board members. 
  • Trustees are well-protected by law if something goes wrong. If a trustee can be shown to have acted in good faith and complied with their duties as a trustee, the law will seek to protect the trustee wherever possible. 
  • There are plenty of online resources to support trustees. From Charity Commission guidance to a wide range of articles and blogs to support new and existing trustees, there is no shortage of advice and guidance to support your transition into charity governance. See these two blog posts from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) on the basics of trusteeship and the liability of trustees as a couple of examples.

It is also worthy of note that online Training exists for charity trustees, including our very own award-winning Trustee Leadership Programme. These online courses provide expert training on the basics of trusteeship and provide a network of like-minded individuals who can support you in your trusteeship journey.


2. Understanding What You Can Offer as a Charity Trustee

Now you know what a trustee does, you need to understand what you can offer as a charity trustee. 

A common misconception is that charity trustees need a wealth of directly relevant work and life experience. However, the reality is very different. In fact, almost anyone can be a trustee! When you apply to be a charity trustee there are no criteria relating to work experience and, if an individual is at the least the minimum age (16 for charitable companies and Charitable Incorporated Organisations (CIOs) and 18 for any other type of charity) and has no disqualifying criminal charges (read the full list of disqualifying charges here), they are an eligible candidate. 

It is important that trustees come from all walks of life and have diverse skillsets. From lived experience or a strong belief in the work of the charity, to professional financial qualifications or experience in charity fundraising, all individuals will have something valuable to offer to the right charity. To understand what you can offer, see this useful free guide from Getting on Board.


3. Finding the Time to be an Effective Trustee

Once you have decided to become a trustee, it’s essential you make time to do the role well. 

Charity trustees can make a huge difference to the success and work of a charity, but only if they have the time available to do so. As a minimum, you will be required to read documents and publications prior to board meetings to ensure you are aware of any recent developments within the organisation. Trustees can also be part of sub-committee, something which requires additional meetings to discuss particular aspects of a charity’s management such as finances or operations. 

Carving out time for these responsibilities time can often be difficult, but it is essential that trustees do this. Read how one of our recent Trustee Leadership Programme participants dealt with this challenge hereGetting on Board also has presented some advice on making time for trustee duties and how, if you choose the right charity, it won’t feel like making time at all!


4. Understanding Charity Finances

Whether you like it or not, part of being a charity trustee is looking at and understanding the finances of your charity. As mentioned in the first point, whilst not all trustees are expected to be financial and accounting experts, the board is nevertheless required to monitor and manage the charity’s finances and financial planning.

This means that, as a minimum, trustees will be required to monitor the charity’s profit and loss and balance sheets, make decisions regarding the allocation of funds, and decide on a reserves policy for the organisation.

If you are worried that this is something that could be a barrier to you becoming a trustee, we highly recommend attending our online charity trustee training. Through the Trustee Leadership Programme you will receive expert training on financial management and what to look for when analysing charity finances. There are also lots of other helpful online training resources, including this article from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.


5. Understanding Your Legal Responsibilities as a Charity Trustee

A final challenge for trustees is understanding what their legal responsibilities are. As ever there are useful resources to help with this. This article from NCVO, for example, clearly breaks down the legal requirements for trustees and how individuals can ensure they are addressing them.

In short, legal responsibilities for charity trustees centre around ensuring the charity is operating in a sensible and responsible manner sensible and responsibly. This means, among other things, making sure that the organisation is working towards its key aims, as set out in its governing document, is complying with charity law, and is using its resources responsibly.

In order to ensure this all happens, trustees must act responsibly and in the best interests of the organisation at all times. For more information on this theme, including templates for safeguarding, due diligence, and volunteer management processes, we recommend visiting the Charity Excellence Framework website.



Whilst becoming a charity trustee can appear daunting and something reserved for people well-established in their careers and lives, the reality is quite different. Everyone has the power to become a trustee and make a real impact in whichever charity they choose. Start your trustee journey today!

Learn more about Cause4’s Trustee Leadership Programme, a course of training supporting the development of knowledge, skills and confidence in prospective or existing trustees, here

More by posts by Thomas Williams

5 Challenges of Being a Charity Trustee and How to Overcome Them

24th April, 2024 | By Thomas Williams

In this blog, we look at the challenges of being a charity trustee and what training is available to support trustees. 

Charity Interns: A New Way of Bringing Talent to the Sector?

23rd February, 2024 | By Thomas Williams

Charity Interns, supported by NCVO, is looking to give professionals from outside the sector a helping hand at the start of their charity careers. Given the ongoing recruitment troubles that the charity sector is facing, this is welcome news. This blog takes a look at the programme and asks, ‘what can Charity Interns offer to the sector and teach us about combatting recruitment issues?’.

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