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CHARITY WATCH Trustee Briefing

Can trustees delegate their responsibilities?

The short answer

Trustees can generally delegate certain powers to agents or employees, but will and must always retain the ultimate responsibility for running the charity.

In more detail

Delegation powers:
Trustees always have the ultimate responsibility for running their charity. But they generally have the power to delegate certain powers to agents, subject to their governing document, and any relevant legislation. The Trustee Act 2000 says that trustees of unincorporated charities can delegate:

  • carrying out a decision that the trustees have taken
  • the investment of assets, including land subject to the trust
  • raising funds for the trust other than by the profits of trade which is an integral part of carrying out the trustís charitable purposes
  • or any other function prescribed by an order made by the relevant Secretary of State..

Dealing with third parties:
Someone acting as a delegate or agent of the trustees should always make clear in dealings with third parties that they are acting in that capacity (particularly if they are not an employee of the charity), and should always record in writing what was agreed in the conversation

How do trustees make decisions?

The short answer

All decisions by the trustees concerning a charity are taken by all the trustees, acting collectively and as a team. However, the decisions need not be unanimous; a majority decision is sufficient unless the charityís governing document states otherwise.

In more detail

Collective responsibility:
Subject to any power of delegation there is a general rule that trustees must take personal responsibility for their decisions, and that all decisions concerning the charity must be taken by the trustees acting together.

Setting up groups or committees:
Trustees can always invite some of their number to look into particular matters and make recommendations. The decision whether or not to act on the recommendations is for the trustees to take together. In some cases the governing document of a charity may permit the trustees to set up committees with delegated powers to carry out particular functions.

Delegating to employees:
The trustees of some charities may need to delegate decisions on dayto-day management matters to employees. In these cases the scope of the authority should be clearly laid down in writing and instructions given for decisions on important matters to be reported to the trustees. Trustees should establish proper reporting procedures and clear lines of accountability. Information and guidance for trustees who employ staff is provided by a number of organisations, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA).

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