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volunteer as a trustee

Volunteering as a trustee gives you the opportunity to get involved with an organisation or cause that you really care about

How to become a trustee

All voluntary organisations are governed by a board of unpaid volunteers, that’s what makes an organisation a “voluntary organisation”. People who give their time to govern organisations are sometimes called directors, board members or trustees. To keep it simple we use the term trustee.

Volunteering as a trustee gives you the opportunity to get involved with an organisation or cause that you really care about. You will help them succeed and  ensure that the organisation does what it is supposed to do. Being a trustee is a responsible but rewarding way to volunteer.

As the time commitment is relatively small, it’s good for people with busy lives. You will be expected to attend meetings at regular intervals, perhaps monthly or six-weekly, and you may get involved in some work between these meetings.

Being a trustee is a brilliant way to develop your skills. It gives you a range of experiences that are useful to employers (in fact some employers are so supportive of volunteering as a trustee that they offer time off for their staff).

Why be a trustee?

We put some questions to trustee Rebecca Neish (pictured) about why she became a trustee and she provided us with a case study you can view here or by clicking on the button below.

It can often feel as if being of a younger generation stands in your way and having less business experience is undesirable. When applying to become a trustee I felt this wasn’t the case, youth was on my side.

Some useful FAQs

What do trustees actually do?

Trustees make sure that an organisation:

  • is legally and financially compliant - that it is well run;
  • does what it was set up to do and sticks to its mission, vision and values;
  • follows what is set out in the governing document or constitution;
  • has well managed and supported paid staff and volunteers; and
  • is accountable.
Who can volunteer as a trustee?

Anyone can volunteer as a trustee. You don’t need to have years of experience of as a corporate executive. Professional experience can be useful, but lived experience is just as important. Your perspective on an issue as a member of a specific community, age group, as someone who has been involved with a service, or who lives in a particular location is just as valuable.

The more diverse the board in terms of experience the more likely it is to be more equitable in the decisions it makes. You do need to be committed to the role as it is a vital an important one, so you should look for an organisation that you value or one which does work in an area that you feel passionate about.

Search our database for current trustee vacancies or keep in touch with the latest new trustee opportunities as well as tips on being a trustee by signing up to our dedicated trustee newsletters, Get on Board Edinburgh.

You can search for opportunities or signup to our trustee newsletters by clicking on the buttons opposite (or below on a mobile device).

How do I know if I have the skills to be a trustee?

Boards need lots of different skills and experiences. A good, balanced board will have people from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences and all are equally valuable. You will see boards advertising for people with certain skills such as finance or business development, but equally important is people who represent community or perhaps have lived experience. To be a trustee you do not have to have lots of professional skills or qualifications, life skills and enthusiasm for the organisations purpose and aims is the most important thing.

Am I too young to be a trustee?

Younger people are a vitally important for boards. Younger people will often have a new and fresh ideas, different lived experiences and are usually a real asset to a board. As a young person, becoming a trustee can also be a powerful learning tool. It gives you experience of governing an organisation, networking and building connections, experience of decision making, budgeting and HR issues etc that are hard to get in the workplace. That can really put you out ahead of the competition in your career path. Scottish charity law does not define a minimum age for a trustee, however in general to enable trustees to fully carry out their duties such as entering into a contract (you have to be 16 to do that) then 16 is considered the youngest age.

Does it not come with a lot of responsibility?

Yes, trustees are ultimately responsible for the organisation they govern. It is the trustee’s role to make sure that the organisation does what it set up to do and that it is properly run. Boards are however a truly collective thing. Each person on the board is equally responsible for the decisions that board make, so although being a trustee is a responsibility it is a shared responsibility.

If I apply to become a trustee what should I expect?

Each organisation is different and will manage the recruitment of trustees in different ways. Some may be more formal, others less so. Technically the board of an organisation recruit new trustees so a discussion with the Chair and/or some other board members should be expected. You will also most likely have a discussion with the Chief Office or manager of the organisation.

If you do join the board of an organisation you must read the governing document. Depending on the structure of the organisation this can be called different things; constitution, articles of association for example. Think of this as the operating manual for the organisation. Not only will it lay out clearly the purpose and aims of the organisation but it will explain how the organisation should be run. Every trustee should be familiar with the document of the organisation.

Can I get training?

Yes. Whether you have been volunteering as a trustee for long time or are just thinking of doing it there is some really good training available. The Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) has a good practice guide for charity trustees and locally Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council (EVOC) regularly run free Roles and Responsibility Training for trustees. The Scottish Council Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) also run courses for trustees on a variety of governance issues.