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Last updated October 3, 2014

Contrary to popular belief, being an effective Trustee for your organisation takes more than showing up for a few meetings. Amongst other things, it’s your job to help steer the organisation, make sure it’s adequately resourced, and ensure it’s operating within the law. It’s going to take a bit of input!

In order for the Board to function effectively, it is expected that individual trustees will know what is included in their constitution and understand the rules by which their organisation should be run. They should also believe (wholeheartedly!) in the purpose of the organisation and clearly understand its Vision and Mission. On top of that, it is expected that Trustees will:

Positively Contribute at Meetings
Trustees should have regular attendance at meetings, and arrive prepared for any items on the agenda. In order to achieve this they will need to read minutes and discussion documents prior to the meeting taking place, and do their own reading and research if necessary.

Practice Due Diligence in Decision Making
When discussing decision matters, Trustees should be prepared to ask questions and seek further explanation where necessary. Trustees must be prepared to challenge decisions that they believe are not in the best interest of the organisation.

Defend the Decisions of the Trust
Should a decision be made that a Trustee disagrees with, that opposition should be recorded in the minutes. However, from a public stand-point, Trustees should present a united front and at all times defend the decisions of the Trust.

Use their Skills, Networks and Knowledge for the Benefit of the Organisation
Trustees should actively advocate for the organisation with their peers, and use their skills and expertise to support the organisation at a Board level. It is good practice for Boards to carry out a Skills Audit every year, so that all Trustees are aware of the specific skills and expertise at the Board table.

Undertake Training in Specific Areas Where Necessary
While a Board may have individual trustees with expertise in specific areas (eg. marketing, finance) it is dangerous to rely solely on their opinion when making decisions. All Trustees should have a basic understanding of Financial Reports, their Legal Obligations as a Charity, and their Legal Obligations as an Employer.

Act with Integrity
Trustees are expected to put personal bias aside and always act in the best interest of the organisation. Their actions must be transparent in intent and Board discussions should be honest and confidential. All Trustees should disclose any business or organisation that they, or their immediate family, are involved in or benefit from.

Make a Financial Contribution to the Cause
In New Zealand, this is not an expectation of all Non-Profit Boards, but it certainly is in many parts of the world. In my opinion, it makes a lot of sense. Trustees are supposedly the people who are most dedicated to your cause. They have intimate knowledge of how your programmes work and the impacts your organisation makes in the community. If they are not moved to make a financial contribution, no matter how small, how can you reasonably expect anyone else to?

What else does your organisation expect from their trustees?