Being a trustee
An overview of why we need trustees
From the Charity Commission's website: "Trustees have overall control of a charity and are responsible for making sure it’s doing what it was set up to do."
The Overton Community Association (OCA) is the charity which runs Overton Community Centre. While the OCA has more verbose constitutional aims (see below), in essence it exists to keep the Community Centre open and running for you. That means making sure enough money comes in, the building is maintained and any statutory tasks are completed. If that's not enough, the last reason we need trustees is that you can't legally run a charity without them.
What do OCA trustees do
In the previous section I mentioned that the trustees' purpose is to keep Overton's Community Centre open. Achieving that is not unlike keeping your own home running, though from a managerial perspective. In the Community Centre's case, a 150 year old home. Trustees make sure bills are paid on time, painting is done, leaky windows are repaired, lights work, it's cleaned, gardening is done, leaks are fixed and there is enough money to pay for it all. The Community Centre is a listed building so some of the repairs and, should we want them, alterations are made more interesting by this. Most of our customers are community groups so we don't want to lumber them with higher costs. Further to running a home, being a charity we have to make sure expenses are accounted for and we send a few notes to the Charity Commission each year. Of course, the other difference is that the trustees of the OCA don't all live in the Community Centre.
That's what we have to do collectively but what we actually do varies by trustee. Some just turn up to quarterly meetings. Some arrange for builders to quote and insurers to insure. Some are good at finding grants. Some like to get involved (or get family members involved) with maintenance. Between the five (up to nine) managing trustees we have to make sure the building stays open but that can be via contractors, other people or doing it ourselves.
What is the time commitment
There is quite a lot to do but we would prefer more people turning up for the basic minimum than not get involved at all. At the very least we have four management meetings and an AGM each year and attending most of those is preferred. Most trustees spend two to three hours a month on meetings, emails and getting things done. While it doesn't sound much it is still a reasonable commitment.
At the moment we are in negotiations with Hampshire County Council to buy the freehold for the Community Centre. This will, inevitably, take time. If it goes through it will be a bit like a house purchase but with more bureaucracy. Much of the building needs re-roofing over the next 15 years so we have to work out how to pay for it. Neither of these will take everyone's time but any extra help would be appreciated. Hopefully it will be full of interesting challenges.
Liability and responsibility
A charity is a legal entity and so there are legal responsibilities for trustees. The law is not out to trip trustees up but protect the system from real negligence, fraud and wrongdoing. This is not unlike most walks of life. Trustees are not liable for losses of the charity as long as they have not acted in an intentionally negligent way. This is the author's abridged interpretation, not legal advice. If you would like to know more please see the Charity Commission's website.
A greater problem most trustees face is the self imposed responsibility to the organisation.
As with most committee like organisations the OCA is structured with a chairman, treasurer, secretary and vice-chairman. The rest of the trustees are without portfolio.
Charitable objects - OCA's constitutional aims
a) To promote the benefit of the inhabitants of Overton and the neighbourhood without distinction of sex or of political, religious or other opinions by associating the local authorities voluntary organisations and inhabitants in a common effort to advance education and to provide facilities in the interests of social welfare for recreation and leisure-time occupation with the object of improving the conditions of life for the said inhabitants.
b) To establish or secure the establishment of a community centre and to maintain and manage, or to cooperate with any local statutory authority or any other body nominated by them in the maintenance and management of such a centre for activities promoted by the association or its constituent bodies in furtherance of the above objects.
Finding out more
Drop us a line via the contact page if you would like to find out more. One of the trustees will happily talk through (their view of) what is involved. It is interesting, frustrating and very rewarding all at the same time. You have probably worked that out if you have read this far.