By Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association


As part of Trustees’ Week 2020, an annual event showcasing the great work that charity trustees do, we wanted to take this opportunity to not only highlight and thank our own group of Council members but also demonstrate what their role is within the British Science Association (BSA).

I’m sure many of us have heard the words ‘trustees’, ‘directors’, ‘board members’, ‘governors’, ‘committee members’ or in the BSA’s case, ‘council members’ but in reality – how many of us actually know who trustees are, or what they do?

From a governance perspective, the basic role of a charity’s trustees is to provide the overall legal responsibility for a charity, ensuring it is effectively run and well-governed. They are usually highly skilled volunteers who have a wealth of experience and knowledge in a particular area, topic or sector.

But, speaking from my own experience as a trustee myself and from working with the BSA’s Council over a number of years, I can say that the most effective trustees are those that believe in the charity’s mission and want to help make a difference in this way.  

The role that trustees play in a charity is often, I think, overlooked unless something goes wrong. However, these individuals put a lot of time and hard work in, and they play a vital role in the success of the organisation.

Governance might sound dull or technical, but it’s really a simple idea. It is about delivering the charity’s mission and vision as effectively as possible by demonstrating leadership, accountability, and good judgement.

In honour of Trustees’ Week, Pilotlight, an organisation which provides business support to UK charities, asked Steve Bright, the Director of International HR at Northrop Grumman Corporation, and I what makes a good trustee. Here are our thoughts:


Source: Pilotlight (2020) attributed to Katherine Mathieson and Steve Bright.

The responsibilities of trustees will vary from charity to charity but at the BSA, for example, council members are responsible predominantly for the following key areas:

  • Long-term strategic direction of the BSA – especially how we fulfil our charitable purpose;
  • Complying with legal requirements – operating within two sets of formal rules: an organisation’s governing document (the BSA has a Statute, Charter and Rules), and the law (the Charities Act 2003); and 
  • Accountability to our audiences, funders and partners – to act in the BSA’s best interests when making decisions (around risk, funding, or anything along those lines).

The BSA’s council members meet quarterly to review the organisation’s progress against our objectives and KPIs, consider the financial picture, sign off any new policies and so on. The day to day running of the organisation is delegated by our council members to our staff via myself and the rest of our Senior Management Team.

The exceptional volunteers who form the BSA’s Council (as of October 2020) are listed here.

If you are contemplating becoming a trustee or are in the charity sector and require support for finding new trustees, there is a lot of information and support available, in particular, on Reach and Inclusive Boards.