What are the responsibilities of a finance trustee?

A finance trustee is responsible for ensuring that the charity uses its money wisely and in line with its mission. This includes creating and monitoring budgets, reviewing financial reports, and ensuring compliance with financial regulations.

They also play a crucial role in ensuring the organisation remains financially stable and accountable to its donors and stakeholders. Furthermore, they may play a key role in fundraising efforts to secure funding needed to support the charity’s ongoing work.


 

This topic was recently discussed on a panel with Getting on Board entitled, “Where are all the finance trustees?” As a specialist recruiter focused on charity trustee appointments and a previous recruiter of finance professionals, this is a subject Jennifer loves to talk about.

So what can boards do better to find the sometimes-elusive finance trustees?

  1. Clarifying expectations and aligning governance perspectives.

One of the significant challenges lies in setting clear expectations for finance trustees. In smaller organisations, there may be a subtle ambiguity about the hands-on nature of the role. Does it involve managing finances, authorising payments, engaging with outsourced finance, or something else?

Even in well-established charities, the expectations can vary. Organisations need to articulate the specific requirements of the role, as that will foster shared understanding and create transparency.

Are you painting a clear picture for candidates to understand what is expected of them?

Picture this: a new finance trustee joins a local charity. Although a voluntary role, they are legally liable, and they are working with and supporting the finance lead to complete this month’s management accounts — some might say it is a busman’s holiday.

Both trustee and charity expectations must align. The right person who is motivated and in sync with the organisation will tackle this stuff, but a person who doesn’t want to be so hands-on will struggle and potentially leave the role.

  1. Beyond finances: recognising diverse skills.

Finance trustees are not just Ledger Liberators, CFOs (Chief Fun Officers), Audit Avengers, Dollar Detectives, Finance Wizards, or any other definitions Google gives me for financial savvy professionals.

Sometimes, organisations focus solely on the financial aspect and overlook the diverse skill set these individuals bring. Recognising that finance professionals bring multifaceted skills and abilities creates an inclusive board recruitment process.

Let’s not pigeonhole them into being the “finance person”. If a candidate sees it is all about finance, this might make them question if it is the role for them.

  1. Shared responsibility for governance.

“All trustee roles are created equal” – a jest with a serious undertone. Trustees, regardless of their designated expertise, bear legal responsibility for all aspects of governance. Acknowledging that finance is a shared responsibility ensures a more collaborative and effective board. The finance wizard isn’t solely responsible, so let’s show that we are not putting it all on their shoulders.

  1. Rethinking qualifications.

The insistence on finance trustees being qualified accountants can be a limiting factor. Organisations should reflect on why such qualifications are crucial for the role. Opening the door to professionals with broader financial acumen can enhance board diversity without compromising competence.

Trustee boards, ask yourself, is it important to have a qualified accountant? And if so, why?

  1. Navigating competition.

Finance professionals are in high demand for board roles. Almost every board can benefit from having a finance person, and this makes for a competitive landscape.

Finance is one of the skills we recruit onto boards most frequently. Often, it’s the one organisations find the most challenging to appoint.

Finance professionals are regularly approached to consider sitting on a board, so how can your organisation stand out? Direct, personalised approaches that resonate with the individual’s background or interests can be very effective.

You might ask, but how do we know if they may be interested? How do we know if they have any personal connection to the cause so we can tailor our approach?

This is where a little detective work kicks in. Who lives locally? What are the local businesses you can search for? Did you see anybody on X/Twitter, LinkedIn or in a newspaper article relating to your cause that might suggest they could be interested in joining your charity?

Although it is a time investment, reaching out to people in your patch with the right skills and experience has a better chance than simply relying on advertising.

You should also consider how you might attract someone who may have never thought about the role.

  1. Time: a critical factor.

Recognising the time constraints of finance professionals is vital. Boards should be clear about the expected time commitment, acknowledging the demanding nature of peoples’ day jobs and other commitments.

Flexibility, accessibility, and a realistic understanding of time requirements will help you make a sustainable appointment.

Be clear with people and ask prospective candidates about how they see it working and how could you work collaboratively to make it successful.

  1. Embracing diversity.

Embracing diversity extends beyond professional backgrounds, encompassing personal experiences and perspectives. Inclusive recruitment practices benefit the appointed individuals and the organisation by enriching workplace culture, fostering innovation, and often boosting team performance.

By creating inclusive recruitment processes, we not only tap into wider sources of talent but contribute to a more equal, diverse future for society.

We urge you to question and challenge why you think a certain profile, experience or qualification makes for a good trustee and how you might broaden the profile.

  1. The importance of team dynamics.

Understanding the human dynamics between trustees and executives is critical. Building a strong working relationship and maintaining effective communication channels are crucial for the success of the board.

Ensure your finance lead is part of the recruitment process, and make it clear who they are — candidates will want to know. Bear in mind that good candidates will want to have a conversation to assess the chemistry and find out more from a financial perspective about the organisation’s position.

These are just some initial thoughts arising from recent discussions. I’m eager to engage in a broader conversation, so feel free to share your perspectives, and let’s continue exploring ways to enhance trustee recruitment in the charity sector!


Oh, and one final thought. Can we do away with the word Treasurer?

 


Jennifer Horan is a Managing Consultant for our Board Practice. If you’re looking to join a board of trustees, you can register your interest here; or please email Jennifer to start recruiting for your charity board. You can also connect with Jennifer on Linkedin.