What is a Board of Trustees?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

In non-profit organizations, the board of trustees often provides a means for members or associates of the organization to elect or appoint individuals who will oversee the function of the organization, ensuring that the core values and purposes of the organization are reflected in the operation process. Generally, members of a board serve terms from one to three years, although various charters may allow persons to be re-elected or re-appointed upon the completion of each term.

Trustees generally guide a non-profit organization.
Trustees generally guide a non-profit organization.

The basis for defining the powers granted to a board of trustees is usually found within the bylaws of a non-profit organization. Trustees as individuals may be assigned specific areas of responsibility, with the board ultimately being collectively accountable to the constituency of the organization for how well those functions are carried out. In other instances, the bylaws may allow boards a great deal of authority in determining the role of each trustee, or whether all board members will jointly oversee the collective duties.

The board of trustees is responsible for developing a public policy that adequately promotes the values of the organization.
The board of trustees is responsible for developing a public policy that adequately promotes the values of the organization.

While the exact composition and division of responsibilities may vary from one non-profit to the next, the board generally will be charged with managing the assets of the organization, within the perimeters defined in the bylaws. This may include overseeing the maintenance of property owned by the organization, managing the operating funds so the budget is not exceeded, and ensuring that any charitable or philanthropic projects are operating according to the standards of the organization.

Often, the board of trustees is charged with developing a public policy that adequately promotes the values of the organization and also ensures that all interaction with the wider community is conducted in a manner that is in keeping with current bylaws. As circumstances change over time, the board will often suggesting amendments to the bylaws for the organization, with an eye toward enhancing the ability of the organization to meet the stated goals and purposes that led to the formation of the non-profit entity.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Is a board of trustees similar to the board of directors? If not, what is the difference?


Could anyone confirm if people on a board of trustees for a non profit organization in the UK can be living at the same address and/or related?


There really is a huge amount of variability in the responsibilities of board members. I've known people that are on a Board of Trustees to be responsible for everything down to the everyday running of an organization, while others seem to use their position for nothing more than to keep abreast of the organization's activities.


Like the article says, the background and role of the individuals who make up a Board of Trustees can vary greatly. There is, however, some tendency for those in the higher echelons of society to sit on multiple boards at the same time.

This sort of thing is especially common for individuals who are otherwise retired.

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