Checklist: When is a trustee not a trustee?

By governance expert Ruth Lesirge

Ruth Lesirge
Ruth Lesirge

Commitment to the cause that the organisation serves is what motivates trustees to give so much of their time and energy - especially when being on the board is very tough.

In addition, some trustees are service users or are the supporters of someone who needs and is directly benefiting from what the organisation is able to deliver. This is an asset for the board: these trustees are grateful and appreciative and want to give something back to the charity. This engagement with the cause also leads some of them to work as front-line volunteers.

But how do such trustees reconcile their wish to engage actively with the cause with the need to remain at arm's length from the operational side? Is it possible to do both?

As ever, the answer is that it depends - in this case on the ability of the trustee to differentiate between the two roles. A trustee is technically the employer and needs to maintain a judicious distance from the operations.

Conversely, when working on the front line they are volunteers like any other and answerable to a member of staff. It requires insight and self-discipline. The best volunteers combine the two roles brilliantly.

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