Meet our Expert

Leon_WardLeon Ward – Trustee of Plan UK, Ambassador for Young Charity Trustees

Leon Ward is a 22-year-old law graduate. He is currently a Trustee of Plan UK and a delegate to Plan International’s global governing assembly. His experience includes work with government, charities and international organisations. He is an Ambassador for ‘Young Charity Trustees’ and a blogger for Civil Society. 


“I am about to run my first trustee meeting. What do I need to include on the agenda and are there any common practices or guidelines that I should be aware of?”

The answer

Whilst every chair operates differently here are a few items that form ‘common practice’ and some that I just like:

– Apologies – this may seem like an inconvenience, however, it is important that absent trustees are noted for instances when the board makes decision that they weren’t a party to. Your minutes guide the board and any external parties so need to be accurate.

– Declarations of interest – whilst most charities have a register of potential trustee conflicts of interest, it is worthwhile, at the beginning of every meeting, to ask for any new declarations.

– Minutes from the last meeting – this is almost a universal standard and it allows trustees to raise follow-up questions from previous issues rather than use the main meeting time to repeat the past. It’s also a useful reminder of what occurred at the last meeting; trustees might have forgotten what decisions they made(!).

– Agenda items – this is always the trickiest part for a chair. You never know how long a discussion may take but I feel it’s usually best to set time limits to each agenda item so that trustees are aware of the allotted time. Their interventions can often spin off on a tangent and it’s important you stay in control. Sometimes, you may find yourself cutting the conversation off because it has taken too much time.

A chair is a facilitator and you should remember that you may have to encourage the quieter ones among the group by asking direct questions or going round the table to ensure everyone has had the space to contribute. It is useful to brief executive members so they don’t waste time by covering too much detail; it is not the role of a trustee to cover every item in great detail. However, the reverse is also true; you may have to reign in some trustees who keep digging deeper!

Naturally, some items need more time allocated them to others. As chair, you may want to repeatedly ask ‘what exactly are we asking the board to do this meeting? Which items are substantial?’. Many other items you could list as ‘for information’ and breeze through them if they do not require specific decisions to be made. Depending on capacity, you may want to delegate some items of work to a sub group. You should check with subgroup chairs whether they have any reports for this meeting.

An action register is a useful tool to help track what actions have been assigned for each agenda item; that way, you will be able to use this as a checklist for your second meeting, i.e. has everyone done what they were supposed to do.

– Any other business (A.O.B) – it’s important to give trustees the opportunity to raise matters that have not appeared in the minutes of the last meeting or have not appeared in your current meeting. Chairs may prefer to ask for advanced notice of A.O.B before the meeting formally commences. This can be helpful if the issue at hand is to be dealt with at the next meeting or whether it is really an issue that can be dealt with outside of the meeting.

– Closed session – many chairs like to offer trustees the space to discuss matters without any executive members in the room. In my experience, these sessions usually take 10 minutes and give trustees the opportunity to ask the chair questions about the executives’ individual performance in a way that doesn’t undermine them in front of their colleagues.

– Dates of the next meeting – I find it is always wise to clarify when the next date is, as you may receive apologies there and then; and it is good to know if too many trustees will be absent so you can avoid not being in quorum and reschedule.

All chairs have their preferred style of managing a meeting and you will develop your own ‘common practice’ for managing tricky meetings and don’t be afraid to ask trustees for feedback. Good luck!