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Trustees share formal responsibility for the charity and must act in its best interests, regardless of how they’re elected or appointed. Some trustees may take on specific roles on the board, such as chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer.
These roles are often known as honorary officer roles, and can only take on specific duties if they’ve been authorised to do so.
This authorisation is set out in the governing document or related procedure, or it will be agreed by the other trustees in a role description (or similar document).
The chair is a trustee with a specific role on the board. The chair is elected or appointed to this role. The role of the chair is to lead meetings of the trustee board.
Additional roles of the chair sometimes include:
The roles above aren’t exclusively roles of the chair. For example, in some charities the development of the board might be led by another trustee. In others, the charity’s press spokesperson might be a member of staff.
Some boards have the specific role of vice-chair to the trustee board. The vice-chair is elected or appointed to this role.
The vice-chair’s role varies from charity to charity. In some charities the vice-chair acts as a deputy for the chair, taking on the chair’s role when the chair is absent. In others, the vice-chair is the ‘chair in waiting’ or ‘chair designate’ and will take over the chair’s role in the future.
Generally the treasurer helps trustees carry out their financial responsibilities. They might do this by:
The work of the treasurer can vary significantly from charity to charity, especially between small and large charities. Many guides exist to help treasurers of different types and sizes of charity understand and carry out their role.
Company Secretary and the secretarial role which may be taken by a trustee (usually known as honorary secretary) or by a staff member (a board secretary).
It’s no longer a legal requirement to appoint a company secretary unless the governing document specifically requires one. However, charitable companies can consider updating their governing document to remove the requirement.
Patrons, presidents or vice-presidents are usually people who lend support to a charity by taking on a high profile figurehead role. They may have specific duties such as chairing an Annual General Meeting.
Presidents and patrons are not trustees, unless the governing document clearly states otherwise (for example, some organisations use the term ‘president’ to refer to the chair of the trustee board).
To avoid any confusion, the role of a patron or president and the limits and expectations of the role should be set out clearly in writing. Some organisations also ask that a code of conduct is observed.
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