I spent two days at this exhibition in Birmingham and sold a number of my books How to be a Successful Trustee. I had many discussions with people who either were trustees, had been or were thinking of becoming one.
One alarming response I got from several people was the increasing difficulty in getting people to take on the role. It seems there is genuine fear that as a trustee, one false move and your house is at risk or you might be carted off to serve at Her Majesty’s pleasure. I tried to reassure people who said that, that the risk was exceedingly small and the malfeasance had to be pretty extreme for that to happen. Many charities make mistakes in their returns and paperwork and there can be problems if it’s not fixed – like the charity being taken off the register – but lost houses and imprisonment was very rare. I tried to find some figures and the only one I could find was that 38 trustees were removed from the register in 10 years. This is miniscule.
The fact remains however that this has become it seems an impediment for many people thinking of becoming a trustee. Recent stories – the Kids Company and Oxfam for example – have clearly had and impact quite out of proportion to the actual risk.
It is a problem the charity and not for profit sector has as I discuss in the book. There is limited coverage in the media – no supplements that I know of covering their activities – but when something goes wrong it is front page news.
The reluctance of people to become trustees, not for reasons of time or worries about their skills etc, but because they fear retribution for a small mistake or oversight is sad and a worry for the sector as a whole