Chapter 15

Trusteeship

The relationship between stewardship and trusteeship

15.01

Over the last 40 years I have wrestled with what it is to be a person of faith, and what that does to my day-to-day life. I have found myself living in the public sphere as a known Quaker, and have had to come to terms with the expectations that this lays on me. I have developed a passion for good governance – in Quaker terms, Gospel Order – and see this as something of which we, you and I in the Religious Society of Friends in Britain, are stewards as surely as we are stewards of the Earth…

Stewardship involves prayer, and it involves thought, and it involves applying what emerges from the two. As individuals our particular talents may lead us to greater emphasis on one of those elements, but they can never be wholly divided within any of us, and as a community we need to be faithful to all three: prayer, thought and application.

Christine A M Davis, 2008

15.02

As members of the Religious Society of Friends we are all called upon to exercise stewardship over the Society’s resources. This is stewardship in its widest sense: ensuring that money and buildings are used wisely and well; that business decisions are taken in right ordering; that all within a meeting, both its members and its employees, are supported and helped to play a full role in the Society’s affairs; that the meeting’s children are cared for and nurtured; that eldership and oversight flourish. We are all called to participate in building a responsible and caring community.

As with elders and overseers, clerks and treasurers, some will be asked to take on a special care for this stewardship for a number of years, acting as trustees of our meetings. They take this role for a period and then relinquish this service to others.

Trustees’ responsibility

15.03

The law may assume that authority for determining action passes to the trustees and the meeting may choose to do this. However, under Gospel Order, the ultimate authority will still lie with the gathered meeting.

Yearly Meeting, 2005

15.04

Friends who accept service as trustees take on specific and personal responsibility, on behalf of the meeting, for the obligations that rest on all Friends.

The commandment that we love our neighbours manifests itself for trustees as a duty to ensure, among other things, that the meeting fulfils the requirements of health and safety and child protection. Our love is diminished if, through our carelessness, we let our neighbours suffer.

The obligation to ensure the right use of our corporate re-sources requires trustees to take and weigh and act upon expert advice on, for example, law and good practice in employment, building maintenance and investment. We do not serve the meeting well if, for instance, we lose the use of a meeting house – not because it is no longer needed and the money can be put to better use elsewhere, but because we have failed to keep it in good repair or to retain wardens or are forced to dispose of it to meet other unplanned commitments. See also 14.01, first paragraph.

15.05

The trustees of charities carry certain legal responsibilities that are described in the publications of the Charity Commission and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. In addition, the trustees of Quaker meetings work at all times within the framework of Quaker governance.

  1. Each trustee must accept ultimate accountability in law for the affairs of the charity. They must ensure that it is solvent, well-run and working at all times within the terms of its charitable object. Trustees of a Quaker meeting have a role in helping to ensure that their meeting is working as described in Quaker faith & practice. (See also 15.14.)
  2. Trustees must ensure that their charity complies with charity law and with the requirements of the regulator (the Charity Commission in England and Wales, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator in Scotland), that it does not breach any requirements set out in its governing document, and that it complies with other legislation (such as employment law, health and safety legislation and disability discrimination legislation). See also 14.29 on the disposal of charity land.
  3. Trustees must themselves act with integrity and avoid personal conflicts of interest or misuse of charity funds or assets. They must ensure that the charity itself acts with integrity and uses its funds appropriately, and they must avoid placing the charity’s assets or reputation at undue risk.
  4. Trustees must use reasonable care and skill in their work as trustees. While they should of course draw on their own personal knowledge and on skills available within the meeting, they should not hesitate to seek external professional advice on all matters where there might be material risk to the meeting, or where they may be concerned about being in breach of their duties. They should ensure that the meeting acts wisely and takes a long-term view as well as keeping up to date with short-term issues.
  5. Trustees may delegate tasks but they must always retain overall responsibility.
  6. Trustees should report to their area meeting at least once a year. They should also refer to the area meeting in session any major decisions, such as the acquisition, disposal or major alteration of land or buildings.

Each Quaker meeting holds ultimate responsibility for the actions of their trustees who have acted in good faith.

15.06

The implications of having a formally appointed body of trustees are explored in the Handbook for trustees of Quaker meetings, a publication of Quaker Stewardship Committee that is updated periodically, and available from the BYM website (new window). This contains chapters that discuss the legal aspects of trustee­ship, indemnification, the appointment and terms of reference of bodies of trustees, and advice about many aspects of trustees’ work. Trustees’ queries and concerns not covered by this publication should be addressed to the Recording Clerk’s Office, for the attention of Quaker Stewardship Committee. See also on personal liability.

15.07

It follows that trustees must be well-grounded in the life and concerns of the meeting for which they act. Their own business meetings are held in a spirit of worship and they are full participants in the meetings for worship for business of the meeting that appointed them. Just as they care for the life of the meeting, the meeting should support and uphold them and their work.

In its turn, the meeting must trust the discernment of the trustees, to whom much day-to-day decision-making may be entrusted. Good communication between trustees and the meeting is essential. It is the responsibility of the clerks of both bodies to ensure that key decisions are brought before meeting for worship for business whenever this seems appropriate.

Friends, whether trustees or other members of the meeting, should always be ready to seek clarification on matters they do not fully understand. If they feel moved to urge a course of action not supported by the trustees or by the meeting, they should first test themselves inwardly. They should check whether they have understood and taken into account all the information available; considered with discipline and rigour all the implications of their preferred course and any alternatives; and measured these against the responsibilities set out in 15.05. If they feel led to pursue the course of action, the matter should be tested by the body following the discipline of our meetings for church affairs described in chapter 3.

15.08

Trustees are not generally able to oversee all business de­cisions of an area meeting. They may delegate some decision-making to local meetings, and other bodies subordinate to area meetings, while retaining overall responsibility (see 15.05.e). The extent of delegation should be formally recorded and regularly reviewed. The record may be in the form of a memorandum of understanding between the two bodies (see 4.34).

Area meetings should ensure that there are effective channels of communication between the local meeting and the trustee body, by, for example, having a trustee linked with each local meeting, or the appointment of trustees to represent each local meeting.

Trustees act on behalf of the area meeting as a whole, including all its constituent meetings. On occasion a trustee may be invited to speak in the trustee body on behalf of a local meeting particularly affected by an item of business. This calls for careful and sensitive handling so that the interests of the area and the local meetings are properly respected. The trustee body’s decision, following discernment, should be taken in the best interests of the area meeting as a whole. Trustees should explain the basis of their decision to the affected local meetings. The trustees’ task is not easy, but it is a vital one and plays an important part in our church government in maintaining good relations within area meetings.

15.09

How trustees are to work is described in a charity’s governing document. Area meetings are also advised to draw up terms of reference for their trustees describing their responsibilities and tasks in much greater detail. Such a document does not have legal status; it can be modified whenever the area meeting feels that changes are needed, without making reference to any external authority. Such terms of reference also provide an essential briefing document for anyone who is considering whether to accept nomination as a trustee.

15.10

Those appointed to serve as trustees must be members or sojourning members of Britain Yearly Meeting (4.04). Appointments should be made by the area meeting and the dates of service recorded by minute. When seeking Friends to serve in this role, meetings should be mindful of the need to involve Friends with a variety of skills and experience. Trusteeship does involve taking care of buildings and overseeing finance, but it is far more than this: Friends’ experience of Quaker ways and general common sense are the two most valuable assets that they can bring to this role.

15.11

Trustees, treasurers and others acting on behalf of a meeting, committee or other Quaker body ought not to be held personally liable for any loss so long as they have acted reason­ably, in good faith and on the best advice available to them. It is the responsibility of the meeting, committee or other Quaker body to exercise the necessary care, and in particular to set bounds to the latitude of decision allowed to its treasurer and others acting on its behalf. Indemnification against personal loss and liability cannot be expected if these bounds are exceeded.

Charitable registration

15.12

Like other churches and religious faiths in Britain, the Religious Society of Friends is a charity for the advancement of religion. Being formally recognised as a charity brings both rights and responsibilities. It is a responsibility of Britain Yearly Meeting to act for the public benefit and to exercise transparency and openness in its affairs. The role that it plays is in turn recognised by the state, which affords benefits in the form of tax concessions and regulatory advice.

15.13

The legislative framework governing religious charities was amended with the enactment of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Charities Act 2006. A previous exception (in England and Wales, but not Scotland) from the need to formally register as a charity is being progressively removed, and the registration process started in 2008. Faced with this change Britain Yearly Meeting decided that the yearly meeting and individual area meetings should in due course register as charities. The charitable object of each is the “furtherance of the religious and charitable purposes of the Religious Society of Friends”.

15.14

The Recording Clerk oversees the process of registration with the Charity Commission of area meetings and some general meetings and Quaker gatherings in England and Wales. Applications are submitted via the Recording Clerk’s Office, which can provide advice and will confirm the meeting’s status to the Charity Commission. Registration may prove a suitable opportunity for an area meeting to review its oversight of historic charitable trusts with which it is associated.

The four area meetings in Scotland, together with General Meeting for Scotland, previously registered with HM Revenue & Customs, have been absorbed into the new register of Scottish charities maintained by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. Any future registration should be undertaken through the Recording Clerk’s Office.

Governing documents

15.15

One requirement of registration is that a charity should have some form of governing document that sets out its charitable object and explains how the charity is to be run. It includes a section on how its resources should be used to further its object and lists the powers that are held by the charity’s trustees on behalf of the membership to realise its object.

15.16

Britain Yearly Meeting in session has agreed the governing document for the centrally managed work of the yearly meeting (see 8.01, 8.03), as well as a governing document template drawn from sections of Quaker faith & practice for the use of area meetings and other Quaker bodies, available from Quaker Stewardship Committee (see 14.3614.43 Stewardship).

Changes to the governing document once adopted by an area meeting must be notified to the Charity Commission (whose permission is required before certain particularly important changes may be introduced). Area meetings that are considering modifying an approved governing document should consult the Recording Clerk for advice before doing so (see 15.13).

Records, including trusts

15.17

Friends have been renowned for maintaining good records since the seventeenth century. Now even more records are required in order to conform with charity law, tax regulations, safety and employment laws. It is recommended that area meeting trustees should be responsible for the safe-keeping and availability of all records, whether they be traditional (e.g. minute books) or legally required (e.g. accounts). Area meeting trustees should also have oversight of and account for all trusts and funds within their area, even though these may be administered by local Friends or meetings.

15.18

It is desirable for trustees of area meetings to maintain in one place details of all the assets for which the trustees are responsible, including land, both functional and investment property, trusts, and financial investments. They should also record the location of original deeds, Charity Commission orders, trustees’ minutes and similar documentation.

Friends should be aware that practically all the records now maintained by meetings, including the books of accounts, minute books, property maintenance records, health and safety compliance records, insurance certificates and employment contracts may need to be produced upon the request of government agencies.

Trustees’ responsibility for the employment of staff

15.19

One of the responsibilities of trusteeship is the legal responsibility for employment of staff. Area meeting trustees hold this responsibility for all staff employed within the area meeting, including wardens, administrators, bookkeepers, caretakers, cleaners, gardeners and casual staff, and should ensure that they are properly overseen and supported in their work. For Britain Yearly Meeting staff, see 8.05.

Trustees should aim to live out Quaker testimonies and to meet the highest standards of integrity in their employment practice. From our testimonies springs commitment to fair treatment, and to valuing and developing each person.

Trustees should bear these principles in mind in developing and maintaining employment policies and procedures which should be consistent across the area meeting.

While trustees hold the legal responsibility, they may delegate tasks for the employment of individuals by the area meeting to local meetings or appropriate committees, including the terms and conditions of employment and the supervision and oversight of employees, as long as any change in staffing structure or of conditions of service has the prior approval of the trustees. If local meetings, or other bodies subordinate to area meetings, have their own employment policies and procedures, area meeting trustees should review, consult and amend them to ensure consistency.

Advice on employment responsibilities, on the required employment policies and procedures, plus tenancy and ‘licence to occupy’ written agreements, should be sought from Quaker Life.

See also 13.3613.40 Wardens.