Taylor Root UK Trustee Network: An interview with Nicholas Eldred

Author Sarah Ingwersen
June 14, 2024

As part of our interview series for our Trustee Network, Taylor Root Partner, Sarah Ingwersen, recently spoke to Nicholas Eldred, Director at NE Consulting Services and Trustee of Friends of the Earth Charitable Trust.

What does your charity do?

Friends of the Earth campaigns to reduce the effects of climate change at local, national and international level.

How does your experience as a General Counsel contribute to your effectiveness as a trustee?

A lot of charities and not for profits are looking for people with legal and governance expertise because quite often they don’t employ a lawyer within the group. Therefore, they are relying on you to provide that advice. Having a general counsel background is very useful and if a General Counsel is also a Company Secretary, that experience is particularly helpful because it plays into the governance side of things. Charity governance is very specific and you have to learn a whole lot of charity governance requirements. You really can use your legal experience to come up to speed. Board members will look to legal Trustees for guidance on what they’re proposing to do to see if this is consistent with the charitable objectives, the overall constitution and the by-laws. If a charity is set up as a company limited by guarantee, Trustees will also be Companies Act Directors so they will have you have directors duties. In many ways it’s like a General Counsel advising their own business.

There are a number of sources for keeping up to date;

  • Get the updates from the Charity Commission. They have a regular newsletter that can bring to your attention new developments if you are nominated as the authorised person within your charity
  • Charities of a certain size often have auditors that audit lots of other charities. They often provide free updates, seminars, and newsletters for charitable trustees
  • You can ask law firms who you regularly work with to provide updates on charity law
  • If you’re a Chair or Deputy Chair you can join The Association of Chairs for a small annual fee and they provide lots of advice on how to run charities. If you’re not Chair/Deputy you can ask them to join and share the knowledge
  • I do a regular update to the board of The Auckland Update that is shared with Trustees and I equally receive updates from difference sources
  • Ask the board’s secretary (if they have one) to provide a regular update

What advice would you give to other General Counsels considering becoming trustees of not-for-profit organisations?

They should definitely consider it but they should pick something that has a purpose that really appeals. If you have a busy executive career you will find yourself working on charity matters on weekends and evenings, so it ought to be something that really interests you. If you are only doing it to have on your CV, I don’t recommend you do it. If you pick a charity that attracts excellent Trustees, the amount of learning you’ll pick up will be extraordinary and you’ll be able to transfer that experience to your executive career. You will get access to very high calibre personnel with the ability to learn from them.

How beneficial do you think a Trustee role is as a stepping stone to a paid NED position?

A charity Trustee is a destination in itself. If you sit on the board of a big charity you have nothing to prove. If you want a (paid) NED role it is definitely helpful because you’re learning the skills of being a non-executive person sitting on the board, helping to run the organisation. Just about every lawyer I know finds it difficult to get on a for-profit board because people often say they have a General Counsel. If you’re struggling to secure a paid NED position, describe yourself as a ‘senior business person’ rather than a General Counsel.

If you are thinking of becoming a trustee and would like to speak with Nicholas about what is involved, feel free to contact Nicholas directly: Nicholas Eldred

If you are interested in a Trustee role or are looking to hire a Trustee position, please get in touch with Sarah Ingwersen to find out more.

If you would like to join our Trustee network, find out more here

We want to reiterate that this is not a paid service and forms part of our referral programme, so please do not hesitate to get in touch. 

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