New guidance on when and how charities should appoint a “lead” trustee as an expert on a specific area has been published by the Chartered Governance Institute (ICSA).
Lead charity trustees in England and Wales comes in response to calls for individual trustees on boards to lead on specific aspects of a charity’s activities such as safeguarding, staff welfare, digital or fundraising.
The guidance emphasises that normally trustees are collectively responsible for the decisions and governance of the charity, but in some cases decision making may be delegated to the lead trustee by the agreement of the board of trustees.
It adds that “all the trustees have a responsibility to challenge management and provide wide-ranging expertise so as to cover all aspects of the charity.”
According to the guidance, “there can be risks to nominating lead trustees, as other board members may abdicate their legal duties by deferring unquestioningly to the board ‘expert’.”
The guidance provides a specimen lead-trustee role description to assist with defining the position.
Charities should consider 'boardroom dynamics'
Speaking about the guidance, Louise Thomson, head of policy at ICSA, said: “The charity sector has seen increasing calls for individual trustees on boards to be appointed to lead on specific aspects of a charity’s activities, such as safeguarding, staff welfare, digital or fundraising.
“Such practice already occurs successfully in other sectors and there is no reason why the practice cannot benefit the charity sector - providing trustees keep in mind the notion of collective responsibility and do not abdicate their legal duties by deferring unquestioningly to the board ‘expert'.”
She added: “When considering introducing a lead trustee, the board should have regard to the intended outcomes for the charity; boardroom dynamics and the impact any lead trustee might have on board effectiveness; and how lead trustee(s) will inform and enhance board meetings and decision making.
“Assessing the ongoing benefits of having a lead trustee in place will also be critical if charities are to effectively ensure that the practice is benefiting them.”