New trus­tee? Be brave and ask questions!

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.

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