Changing roles and responsibilities of the voluntary sector: Experiences of local charity trustees
Metcalf, Lindsey (2012)

by Lindsey Metcalf, University of Liverpool

Social policy developments during the past three decades have profoundly changed the way in which welfare services are provided, by substantially increasing the role of voluntary organisations in the delivery of ‘contracted out’ public services in a ‘mixed economy’ of welfare.

Such policies raise significant issues for voluntary organisations, including questions about the extent to which charities can maintain their independence from funders, financial insecurity arising from short-term contracts and the difficulty of achieving full cost recovery, and the ability of organisations to remain focused on their charitable objectives and principles (Charity Commission, 2007). Furthermore, complex and lengthy bidding processes and onerous monitoring and reporting obligations place a disproportionate burden on smaller charities with fewer staff and resources (Rochester, 2003).

This paper examines the implications of the shifting policy environment for charity trustees charged with the leadership and governance of local voluntary organisations within this context.

It draws upon primary empirical research into the qualitative experiences and perceptions of trustees occupying roles on the boards of local charities. The paper argues that the challenges facing the voluntary sector directly impact upon charity trustees, offering insights into the issues that occupy them. Furthermore, the research reveals significant ambiguity in how the trustee role is defined and perceived; varying levels of confidence among trustees about their ability to meet their responsibilities; and inconsistency in the training and support available to them in fulfilling their roles.


Lindsey Metcalf is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology (School of Law and Social Justice) at the University of Liverpool.

Her research interests include the implications of policy initiatives for voluntary organisations, issues relating to governance and public service contracts, and the roles and support needs of trustees and volunteers within a changing policy environment. She is also a charity trustee.

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