It’s expected that new trustees will make decisions and share responsibility for them – from the off. Do you feel ready to do so? Improve your confidence by asking questions and getting to know the organisation. One thing is for certain: taking a hands-off approach in your first year of office isn’t going to help.
If you’ve been on a board of trustees for many years, you’ll know your remit like the back of your hand: you’ll be familiar with all the things that come up time and again during your work. It’s a different situation for new trustees, with the topics under discussion often being near-impenetrable for them. Do you know that feeling? Please ask if you don’t understand something. Questions show interest – not weakness.
Is there an induction programme available?
New employees are usually introduced to the ins and outs of their work via an induction programme. And you can ask for the same thing as a trustee. After all, you’re likely to make better decisions if you’re familiar with the organisation.
We’d recommend an introduction to the work carried out by the board of trustees: how does the board work, how should I prepare for meetings, what is expected of me, what are my areas of responsibility? At the same time, however, it is also important that you familiarise yourself with the organisation’s activities. Depending on the foundation’s size and the area within which it’s active, there might be employees or teams who could give you an insight into its day-to-day work.
How are the foundation’s structures regulated?
Have a look at your foundation’s underlying documents: its statutes and deed of foundation, and any regulations, will provide information on the tasks, structure, areas of competencies and responsibilities of its committees and specific individuals.
Do we have strategic requirements?
Governance is possibly the most important task performed by an NPO’s management body. This requires the organisation to take a closer look at its environment, face the future and determine long-term goals. Although the latter is important in terms of governance, it is also essential to plan specific measures and the required means and resources.
Does your foundation have strategy papers? What direction is the organisation heading in? What do people want to do, and what do they want to avoid?
Are we on a solid financial footing?
The entire board of trustees is responsible for the foundation’s finances, not just the specific trustee designated for this area. Have someone explain the foundation’s finances to you: are there any financial risks? Are the finances healthy? For example, how are fees for services calculated?
If you know what’s impacting your chance of (financial) success, you can make decisions accordingly.
What about our risk management?
Every foundation needs to lay down a risk management system – regardless of its size. Are people aware of the key risks and weak points in the organisation, have they been assessed, and have measures been taken to minimise risk? For instance, are there regulations and processes for financial monitoring? They’re needed to ensure things are managed properly and losses can be avoided.
Does the foundation have directors and officers liability insurance?
You’re responsible for the outcome of your decisions from the moment that you take office, and you need to be familiar with the overarching conditions to take on this responsibility.
If members of a strategic body breach their obligations and this results in damage, they are personally liable and may be forced to use their private assets to settle any financial obligations. If the foundation takes out D&O insurance, this protects its trustees. The fact they are not paid for their work does not shield them from liability.