Getting New Charity Trustees up to Speed

So you’ve just appointed a new trustee – what happens next? Often I hear some horror stories on my governance training courses from trustees who are provided with no information upon taking up a trustee appointment. Conversely some trustees are bombarded with reams of policies and procedures!

A balance between the two is of course advisable. A potential trustee should have received information from the charity when first considering such a role, to help in deciding if this is an organisation they wish to give their time and energy to. A trustee role description and background on the charity eg annual report and accounts, publicity material, are all helpful at this initial stage, before a trustee is formally appointed.

Once a trustee has taken up their appointment there should be a set induction process to be followed to ensure they are given the required information in manageable chunks. A trustee induction pack should include the following:

  1. Glossary of key terms used by the charity – to help de-mystify acronyms
  2. List of current trustees along with a ‘thumbnail’ sketch of their background and experience – to be aware of what each trustee brings to the board
  3. Copy of the charity’s governing document – to ensure the trustee is clear on the purpose of the charity and its internal board procedures
  4. Minutes of the last five trustees meetings – to gain familiarity with the format and content of such meetings
  5. Dates, times and venue of trustee meetings for the forthcoming year – to help in planning attendance
  6. Current strategic and business plans for the charity – to be aware of the charity’s future goals and objectives
  7. If the charity employs staff, then an organisational chart showing the management structure along with the names and posts of senior staff – to provide information on key personnel they may wish to meet early on in their induction
  8. Key policies such as trustee conflict of interest, trustee code of conduct, financial controls and equality and diversity – to acquaint themselves with the charity’s policies and procedures.
  9. The Charity Commission publication (CC3) The Essential Trustee – gives a clear explanation of the roles and responsibilities of trustees. A revised version is now available to download from the Charity Commission website.

One charity of which I’m a trustee has produced a trustee handbook that contains a lot of the above information in an easy to read format.

However induction isn’t just about a folder/CD of policies and other documents. New trustees need opportunities to meet their colleagues informally, not just at a trustees meeting. Getting to know key staff and making visits to any projects, where they can make contact with service users or clients, will help give an insight into the charity and hopefully instil enthusiasm about what it aims to achieve.

An informal meeting fairly early on with the Chair and Treasurer will help gain an appreciation of the responsibilities of these honorary officer roles.

I know of several charities that have used the ‘buddying’ idea, where a more experienced trustee offers support to a new trustee. This isn’t always effective, often because the ‘buddy’ hasn’t been pro-active enough. Options might include meeting up informally perhaps a month after the new trustee’s appointment, once they’ve had time to read all the induction materials to see if they have any questions, as well as chatting with the new trustee before and after trustee meetings to clarify any issues.

Some charities have a probationary period for trustees and their appointment is only confirmed after this has been satisfactorily completed. One charity I worked with had had a bad experience when three new trustees joined the board and tried to take over! They subsequently instituted a six month probationary period before an appointment was finally approved.

Even if you don’t use this process, an informal meeting with the Chair three months into the new trustee’s tenure would be a useful opportunity to see how they are settling into the role, and to ensure they have an opportunity to voice any issues and ask questions.

If the trustee was asked to complete a skills audit as part of their recruitment process, then any training requirements could be addressed within the first six months of appointment.

Don’t forget to ask the new trustee for their views on the induction process. This is a useful way of getting feedback on what has worked well and how the process could be improved for future trustees.

An effective induction process should ensure new trustees have a solid understanding of both their role and the organisation so that they can become an active member of the board and make a valuable contribution to the work of the charity. They may even enjoy themselves!

If you would like support from Ruth on devising an induction process, implementing a skills audit or other issues around trustee development, then do get in touch.


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