What is a Trustee and How Can I Find One?

Written by
Hannah Curtis and Bjorn Wagenpfeil
August 6, 2021

At The Neighbourhood Group (TNG), we believe in the power of community-led initiatives and grassroots projects that support disadvantaged communities from within. However, in order to mobilize and create innovative programs that serve your community, you often need funding. Grant opportunities for community groups, resident associations, and youth-led collectives exist, but there is a catch: Foundations and public institutions too often will not award you any funding unless you are a registered charity (and most community-led groups are not) or work with a trustee.  

From a funder’s perspective, working with a trustee means two things: One, a charity of your choice will hold the grant you received for your project on your behalf and take care of bookkeeping and financial reporting. Two, the organization you choose as your trustee will be legally responsible for your project, how grant monies are spent, and any liability issues that might arise as you carry out your activities.

Why is that necessary? Because funders want security! At the Trustee Hub, an initiative of TNG, we understand that you as a community leader with a vision and good intentions might, at first, be baffled by this. We have heard from community members who want to organize – especially BIPOC-led and –serving groups, that they feel mistrusted and confined by the requirement to work with an organization that in some cases doesn’t understand the unique needs of their communities or doesn’t treat their project as a priority. We take these concerns and vestiges of colonial practices in the charitable sector serious and offer an alternative.

While we cannot change the fact that entering a trusteeship agreement is often a strict requirement for you to receive funding, we do believe that working with a trustee need not be a confining prerequisite but can, instead, amplify your impact!  

The decision who is going to be your trustee is ultimately up to you, but choosing a trustee can be a difficult process. Here are three things you should consider when you begin your search:

(1) A good trustee will not micro-manage your projects. There is a distinct difference between offering knowledge and advice to an organization and taking over their project entirely. This doesn’t mean that your trustee should not be involved in your project, or that their expertise should not matter. Rather, you and your trustee should work together. You should both have an invested interest in your success, and leverage your collective experience to grow your project and effectively utilize your funding.  

(2) Your trustee should be well connected to the non-profit world and be passionate about community organizing. Look for a trustee who has similar values to you, and who believes in the work your organization does. TNG brings together three community organizations who have supported folks living in the Greater Toronto Area for over 200 years collectively. The Trustee Hub has a longstanding legacy of community networks. In 1974, TNG became a United Way Greater Toronto anchor agency, and our relationship with United Way Canada remains strong to this day. We are also well connected to group funders and supporters, including the City of Toronto and the Ontario Trillium Foundation to name a few. We work to facilitate connections between these partners and the young leaders we work alongside, sharing grant opportunities and group programming with our network in our biweekly newsletter. Make sure to subscribe to receive it directly!  

(3) Finally, try to choose a trustee that not only offers trusteeship services, but invests their time and resources into supporting the growth of your organization. Whilst getting support with tedious bookkeeping tasks is great, a good trustee will go beyond minimum expectations. At the Trustee Hub, we see trusteeship as so much more than financial support. Unlike other trustees, we have created a mentorship framework that co-exists with our trustee program. This means that along with financial and administrative support, we are able to host events, offer training and provide capacity building workshops, connect you to TNG resources and supports, and help you source funding and grant opportunities. We also host personalized check-in sessions with each of our groups on a consistent basis to better support you and your organization. Relationship building should be at the forefront of your trustee’s mind! Make sure that your organization is getting the most from their trustee, and tap into the knowledge they have to offer!

Are you interested in being trusteed with the Trustee Hub at The Neighbourhood Group? Apply here!

Interested in being trusteed with the Trustee Hub at St. Stephen’s Community House?
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