Trustees: the gear, the brake and the steering wheel

I don’t find cars that interesting. I’m probably not your typical man in that respect.

So this analogy is likely to be even more riddled with holes than my blog linking yoga to fundraising. But I’ll go for it anyway:

OK then. Let’s say your charity is a car. Your destination is your organisation’s mission. It’s where you’re trying to get to.

The Chief Executive is driving. The fundraiser is thinking about how to find money to pay for the petrol. The finance manager is looking at the dashboard, thinking about fuel economy. The marketing manager is wondering what messages the car’s colour is giving the world.

What part do the Trustees play, then, and why are they important? Essentially, a good Board should operate in two key areas: support and accountability. So, with thanks to Prue Skene, whose talk many years ago got me thinking about this analogy, I like to think of them playing the following automotive roles:

  • The Gear: Trustees should understand and approve the charity’s mission, business model, and agree the organisation’s strategy. These elements will help the organisation to move forward at controlled speeds.
  • The Brake: Trustees also need to ensure that legal and financial obligations are stuck to, and that proper procedures and policies are in place. The organisation will need to slow down as it goes round corners.
  • The Steering Wheel: Trustees are there to help steer the organisation, to oversee the direction it will take. And while this wheel enables the car to change direction, remember that the Trustees themselves are not the driver! That’s the job of the executive staff.

Interested in becoming a Trustee or in how to do it well? Check out Leon Ward’s blog Seven steps to becoming a charity trustee or see the NCVO’s resources page.

The resources are important and helpful, because it’s certainly difficult to get Boards working well. John Carver memorably describes them as “incompetent groups of competent people.”

But I find working as a Trustee and with other charity Boards to be one of the best things about working in the charity sector.

Become a gear, a brake and a steering wheel, and help a charity stay on the road!

This blog was written by Richard Sved and first appeared on 3rd Sector Mission Control.

Emma Begg

Product and Marketing Manager at CharityConnect. Love learning about new technology and helping to create a culture of collaboration over at

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