Recruit your trustees

Trustees are volunteers who are legally responsible for the charity and ensuring the charity is doing what it was set up to do, in line with its charitable purposes. They must:

  • Always act in the charity’s best interests
  • Manage the charity’s resources (money/property/staff) responsibly
  • Make sure the charity is acting within the law
  • Ensure the charity is carrying out its purpose

This useful diagram from the Charity Commission website explains the six main duties of trustees.

For a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO), a trustee should be at least 16 years old.  For any other sort of charity, a trustee needs to be at least 18 years old. Providing they are not disqualified for some reason, almost anyone can be a trustee.

One of the reasons that charity registration requests are automatically disqualified is because of trustees being unfit to work with children or vulnerable people. Make sure that none of your trustees have been:

  • Placed on a sex offender registry
  • Charged with bribery or money laundering
  • Charged with bankruptcy
  • Arrested on the basis of suspected terrorist activities
  • Removed as a trustee from another charity

More on trustees

  • Most charities have between three and 12 trustees – you will need at least three unrelated trustees to register with the Charity Commission. The Charity Governance Code recommends that “A board of at least five but no more than twelve trustees is typically considered good practice”.
  • You can appoint someone who lives outside the UK as a trustee, but it’s recommended that the majority of your trustees are based in the UK.
  • They are usually unpaid (unless they have special permission from the Charity Commission).
  • They meet regularly (between four and 12 times a year) to consider charity business.
  • They sometimes have a set term of office (usually three years, plus the option for another three, if you and they wish).
  • The group of trustees is sometimes called ‘the board’ or, in a charity with no staff, ‘the management committee’.

You should choose trustees who, together, can provide the skills and experience most needed to oversee the work of your charity.

You will need a chair and a treasurer. You might also need people with knowledge and understanding of the social issues you will be dealing with; expertise in things like fundraising, digital innovation, and organisational development; and skills such as strategic thinking, policy analysis or marketing.

You might not get everything you want but it’s good to think about what your priorities are and which skills your charity will most need.

NCVO and our partners in the sector have lots of support and resources to help you find the right trustees for your small charity. Here are a few suggestions to get started:

All trustees should take the time to read the Charity Commission’s essential trustee guidance for an understanding of what’s required of a charity trustee, including your responsibilities to your charity. 

We also recommend that all trustees are familiar with the Charity Governance Code. The code is not a legal requirement, but it sets the principles and recommended practice for good governance in charities. Download a code for smaller charities.