My Experience as a Charity Trustee

Posted on
19 Sep 2018
by Austin O’Sullivan

To mark the first Charity Trustee Week in 2017, we spoke to a former trustee of The Wheel, Austin O’Sullivan, about his experience. Austin is also Director of Resources at WALK. This year, Trustee Week, takes place between 12 and 18 November 2018. 

Q. How and why did you become a charity trustee in the first place?

My first involvement at Board level was with a voluntary association governed by a constitution. When the association became a Company Limited by Guarantee I transferred into being a director. At that time I wasn’t aware of the duties of a director and for many years I was ignorant of my legal responsibilities. It was only through education in the Governance Code that my responsibilities became clear to me. I now have 30 years’ experience on boards in areas of Equality, Human Rights and Education. There is a close match between by areas of voluntary work and my full-time job.

Q.How have you used your skills, knowledge and experience in your role as trustee?

I have experience in Finance, Human Resources and Organisation Development. I have usually had a Finance remit on the boards I have been involved in as this is an important area in the governance of an organisation.

Q. How has your experience as a trustee helped you in your day job and in your understanding of good governance?

I have been able to bring the knowledge I acquired in my voluntary roles back into my day job, and this has benefited the organisation I work for.

Q. Tell us a little about what you have learnt personally from your experience as a trustee?

Being a trustee has made me aware of the importance of implementing robust systems to ensure the Board manages the affairs of the organisation in an appropriate manner. Ultimately, this results in stronger organisations. I have had the opportunity to work in areas of personal interest that I would never have gotten any other way. It is a commitment but the rewards are there when you see how your contribution supports the achievement of the mission of the organisation.

Q. What are currently the key challenges for the trustees of charities and how have these changed since you began as a trustee?

The duties and responsibilities of a trustee in the community and voluntary sector are now the same as those of a corporate board. This means that trustees need to be 100% committed to the role and to educate themselves about their responsibilities. This personal responsibility is a heavy burden, especially in communities where volunteers are scare and the same people end up on many boards in their community. I think we need to look at increased supports for Boards. Resource constraints in smaller organisations mean that education is sometimes forgone for front-line service provision. Support for Trustees should be made available by Charities Regulator, and all Board should be supported free of charge to attain the Governance Code standard.

Q. Would you encourage others to volunteer as trustees and why?

Being a trustee gives you an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the work of the organisation whose work you support. I think it is important that your personal values match the values of the organisation. It provides great networking opportunities and a great sense of community!

Trustees’ Week will take place from 12 to 18 November.  The week is being organised by the Charities Regulator, The Wheel, Charities Institute Ireland, Dóchas, the Carmichael Centre, Boardmatch Ireland and Volunteer Ireland. For more information visit