With the exception of a handful of organisations, all charities have a board of volunteer trustees at their heart. Trustees are the final decision-makers of a charity, and have final responsibility for its success or failure, although their role varies depending on the size and complexity of the organisation.

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At most of the 400,000 charities in the UK, trustees are the ones who do the work. There aren’t any other volunteers or any paid staff. Being a trustee varies a lot, depending on whether you're doing the work yourself, or overseeing paid staff.

But at all charities, trustees are the final decision-makers, with oversight of all the charity’s decisions, but the board’s main job is usually to set direction and have oversight of what’s going on. Boards offer the executive strategy, scrutiny, and support. 

Trustee boards will typically meet four to six times a year to look over the most important issues facing the charity, although how involved trustees are in between times will vary depending on the organisation. For the chair of the board, the commitment can be significantly greater.

If you want to become a trustee, do make sure you understand the legal duties and responsibilities you’re taking on. If the charity’s incorporated as a company, you’ll be listed as a director on Companies House. If the charity’s unincorporated, you will in theory have personal liability.

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