What is a trustee and why should you consider being one?

In this blog we outline the role of a trustee, what’s involved and tips on how to find out more.

It’s important for a trustee board to reflect the people the charity seeks to serve. Many charities in the sight loss sector involve blind or partially sighted people as trustees.

But it shouldn’t stop there.  Blind and partially sighted people are excellent problem solvers – as they have to do this every day of their lives. It’s one of the things that makes them a great asset to any board, not just sight loss charities

Bringing the experience of blind and partially sighted people to boards outside of the sector and those of commercial organisations will help them see the world differently and open up a unique and valuable perspective.  Greater involvement from people with visual impairment at trustee level has the potential to create a more inclusive future and influence positive change.

Alex Henderson is partially sighted and works as a Student Support Co-ordinator for Thomas Pocklington Trust.  When he was asked to become a trustee for Haringey Phoenix group, a charity working with blind and partially sighted people in that borough, he was surprised. He said: “I wasn’t even sure what a trustee was, let alone whether I wanted to become one! I didn’t have a clue what it might involve or if I’d be any good at it.” You can read more about Alex’s trustee journey in his blog:

Me, a Trustee?


So, who are trustees?

According to the official Trustees Week website there are just over one million trustees supporting 196,000 charities in the UK.  Trustees are volunteers who provide governance and leadership to a charity.  They work as a team to ensure that the charity is fulfilling its objectives and that it is spending its money wisely.  Becoming a trustee is a great way to share your skills, experience and time with a charity.  It’s also an opportunity to develop your leadership skills and create new connections.

Read stories from trustees both within and outside the sight loss sector in our Trustee voices.

Who is eligible to apply for a trusteeship?

Less than 3% of charity trustees are under the age of 30 and many people are surprised to learn that you can become a trustee from the age of 16.  The Young Trustee Movement aims to increase the quality and quantity of young trustees on boards in England and Wales.

People are unable to apply for a trusteeship if they have been previously disqualified as a trustee, if they are bankrupt or if they have certain convictions listed on the Gov.uk website

What are the duties of a trustee?

There are six key duties involved in a trusteeship.  Trustees have a legal responsibility to:

  • Ensure the charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit – trustees should understand their charity’s purpose which is outlined in its governing document.
  • Comply with the charity’s governing document and the law – trustees should take reasonable steps to understand the legal requirements of their role
  • Act in the charity’s best interests – trustees should make informed decisions to enable the charity to carry out its purpose
  • Manage the charity’s resources responsibly – trustees should put appropriate procedures and safeguards in place to ensure charity resources are managed responsibly
  • Act with reasonable care and skill – trustees should give enough time, thought and energy to their role, making use of their skills and experience
  • Ensure the charity is accountable – trustees should comply with statutory accounting and reporting requirements.

You can learn more about becoming a trustee and their responsibilities in The Essential Trustee, published by government. This publication sets out everything a new trustee needs to know.  NCVO has also published the easy read Good Trustee Guide which supports people with learning difficulties on boards of charitable trustees.


What is the role of the Chair?

The role of the Chair is to lead meetings of the trustee board, acting as a figurehead for the charity and representing it at functions, meetings or in the press. The Chair leads on the development of the board, ensuring it has the right combination of skills amongst its trustees and that its decisions are implemented.  This can be a demanding yet rewarding role which involves a significant time commitment.


Do many people who are blind or partially sighted become trustees?

During Trustees Week, Thomas Pocklington Trust is celebrating the voice of blind and partially sighted people who are leading organisations as trustees.  We want to encourage more people with visual impairment to consider a trusteeship.

Read the stories and advice from trustees both within and outside the sight loss sector in our Trustee Voices.


How do I find a Trusteeship?

There are many websites that advertise vacant trustee roles.  It’s really important for anyone considering a trusteeship to undertake research to ensure it’s the right role and charity for you.  Trusteeships are usually timebound so be clear on your expected length of service and the time commitment of the role.  You should expect to follow a recruitment process and receive training and support at the start and throughout your appointment as a trustee.


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