The way in which trustees behave can have a significant impact on how a charity is viewed. Public perception of charities is coming under increasing scrutiny, especially in light of the Charity Commission’s Statement of Strategic intent which sets out its “intention to use its authority and influence as the regulator to draw attention to behavior that could jeopardise public confidence in the sector as a whole”.

A code of conduct is a useful tool which provides trustees with clear guidelines as to the standards of behaviour and good practice expected of them in fulfilling their role.


What is a trustee code of conduct?

A code of conduct is a set of guidelines that charity trustees agree to follow. This will often go beyond the charity’s governing document and provide an outline of the responsibilities and best practice for the charity trustees. The aim of a code of conduct is to prevent or address issues that may arise.


When should you consider having a code of conduct?

The Charity Governance Code provides for recommended practices that trustees should follow. One such recommendation is that all charities adopt and adhere to a suitable code of conduct that sets out expected standards of probity and behaviour. It is therefore good practice for all charities to undertake a periodic review of their governance arrangements and to consider whether a code of conduct is appropriate.

In considering whether to adopt a code of conduct, charities will need to give thought to their governing documents, and ensure that the code of conduct adequately reflects the trustees’ powers therein. In the event of a conflict between a code of conduct and the charity’s governing documents, the governing documents will preside.


What does a code of conduct cover?

A code of conduct may include:

  • an outline of the role and function of trustees;
  • standards of conduct;
  • acting within the charity’s governing document and the law;
  • acting in the charity’s best interests;
  • acting with integrity and honesty;
  • confidentiality;
  • trustee benefits and conflicts of interest; and
  • attending board meetings.

A code of conduct can also include examples of behaviour that should assist trustees in making good decisions that further the charity’s objects.

A code of conduct is a useful document to assist charities in deciphering appropriate behaviour. Whilst a code of conduct is not in itself a legal requirement, some of its contents may include legal requirements. It is worth considering whether a code of conduct is appropriate for your charity to ensure greater transparency, accountability and responsibility.