How old should charity trustees be?

I commented on an interesting blog post about young charity trustees a few weeks ago. By chance, I came across the post again today, and noticed that my comment wasn’t there – presumably swallowed by spam filters as it had quite a few links in it.

I still have it in my cache, so I thought I’d add an intro and re-post it here, so it gets to see the light of day 🙂

The age of charity trustees is a topic which comes up from time to time, particularly amongst those of us who work in youth volunteering charities.

For readers from the corporate world, it’s perhaps worth some quick background about trustees. The best analogy for a charity trustee is company director. As with companies, many charities (including my own) employ full-time staff, whose job and career it is to work for. We also employ a full time manager – in our case, a ‘Chief Officer’, who is responsible for running the organisation. In all operational respects, they are in charge.

Trustees are similar to company directors (except that we don’t get paid!). In the same way that corporate CEOs have to answer to a board of directors, a charity Chief Officer is responsible to a board of trustees. The trustees are responsible for strategy, for long-term planning, for direction. The trustees define where they want the organisation to go in broad terms, while it is the staff under the direction of a manager or Chief Officer who put in the hard work to make it actually happen.

Another analogy from my experience are schools. The headteacher is the boss for the day-to-day running of a school, but they have to answer to a board of governors, who are responsible for framing policy and setting direction.

(In reality, the line between what is operational and what is strategic can often be a little fuzzy, so it’s essential that a manager and the trustees work together in partnership.)

So the question that the original blog post was looking at was about who is suitable for such a role. Someone who can look at the big picture. Someone who can help create a vision for how the organisation could be, and help define the strategy and direction necessary to make that a reality. Someone mature enough to be responsible for the many legal obligations that come with trusteeship, such as responsibility for the finances.

And in particular, how old do you need to be to be suitable for such a position?

This is topical in some regards, as it was one of the questions put forward in the consultation that was ran by the Cabinet Office, the results of which have not yet been published.

The consultation was looking for feedback on some of the draft regulations for CIOs (CIOs are a new model of charity governance that was introduced in the Charities Act 2006, but yet to be actually implemented).

One of the questions was asking for feedback on the clause:

Only a person who has attained the age of 16 years is eligible to be appointed as a charity trustee of a CIO.

At 16, this was even younger than the questions that the original blog post was commenting on (about the suitability of 18 year olds for trusteeship) and definitely raises questions about practicability.

The author of the blog post I was commenting on highlighted that under 18’s as charity trustees is not unprecedented – with the case study of ‘Funky Dragon’ an obvious example.

The Charity Commission notes that it is acceptable today to have under-18’s as trustees, although suggests considering restrictions such as limiting the proportion of the board allowed to be made up of under-18’s, and highlights practical issues to consider such as whether a parent is ultimately responsible for an under-18 year old’s trustee responsibilities.

That said, even if not unprecedented, trustees aged under 18 are certainly unusual. And the proposed regulations for CIOs would appear to be making a stronger and more straightforward case for them.

As I said, the formal results of the consultation have yet to be published, but the few responses I’ve seen published independently already have been mixed on the subject. For example:

voluntary action sheffield

Although there may be very good arguments for making some aspects of CIOs consistent with limited companies, we think that there are certain other aspects that need to retain their unique identity under charity law and this is one of them. Because of the fairly onerous duties imposed by law on charity trustees, they should not be permitted to undertake them under the age of 18 except in special circumstances.


NCVO recognises the value of encouraging young people to become more involved in charities. However the CIO is a new legal form designed for charities, not companies, and the Regulations should therefore follow the charity model.

Anthony Collins Solicitors

since the CIO is a corporate entity it seems to us to be logical to align the minimum age requirement with that for charitable companies rather than requiring a minimum age of 18 in line with charitable trusts. In any event, we assume that there will be nothing to prevent the promoters of a new CIO from including a more onerous provision in its constitution requiring that trustees must have attained the age of 18 years or some higher figure.

Community Matters

We would support the minimum age for the appointment of trustees to be set at sixteen, this being consistent with company law in this case. We believe that this will help encourage the involvement of young people in the governance of charities and in activities within their communities.


NCVYS believes that the Charity Commission’s statement is still valid and supports having no restrictions upon young people under the age of 18 being charity trustees of CIOs. All moves that contribute to reducing barriers to participation by young people are welcomed. This is important for organisations that work with young people as the engagement of young people as members of a trustee board can be beneficial to both young people and the organisation as a whole. Young people have the opportunity to learn new skills and gain self-confidence and organisations can ensure that young people, their key stakeholders, are fully involved in the strategic planning and decision-making of the organisation.

My own view on this is a little mixed. In principle, I definitely support the idea of under-18 year old trustees. Particularly in charities whose benefactors are young people, where it seems only right that young people are a part of the group responsible for the organisation. And although the work of trustees is complicated, I don’t think it must be beyond the understanding of young people.

But I do have practical concerns – even beyond those highlighted in the existing Charity Commission guidance.

Is a 16 year old trustee equal to a 40 year old trustee? What happens if you have younger trustees who can debate but not vote? Or who can vote, but have less of a vote? Could sensible safeguard efforts result in the creation of a two-tier system, with second-class trustees who have less-than-equal status? And could resentment from this damage the effectiveness of youth involvement in governance that it seeks to engender?

Even if a charity structure allows under 18s to have an equal vote, I can see that the Chair of the board could have a challenging task in effectively managing debate amongst a group that includes 16 year olds and 40 or 50 year olds amongst it’s members. Making sure that the younger members feel able to have their voice heard and challenge more senior members, while ensuring that the older members do not “talk down to” or dismiss the concerns of their younger colleagues. I could see this being a careful balancing act.

However, I think it’s a challenge worth facing. The benefits to a charity such as us to have the youth voice at every level (in addition to the existing varied ways of getting input and feedback, including youth forums that advise the trustees decisions) are massively valuable. And I look forward to the not-too-distant future when we might have our first 16 or 17 year old trustee.

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One Response to “How old should charity trustees be?”

  1. David Morris says:

    Interesting because I’ve just been offered a place on the board of trustees of my local canla restoration trust. Our new Chairman is keen to exploit different ways of reaching out to a newer generation of members and sees electronic media as one way of achieving that, and that’s where I come in. I don’t think I qualify as a “younger” one though in your context, but do in the context of some of the current incumbents.