The basic definition of a Trust is a democratic, not-for-profit organisation of supporters, committed to strengthening the voice for supporters in the decision making process at a club, and strengthening the links between the club and the community it serves.
What's the role of Supporters Direct?
Supporters Direct help fans form Trusts by offering advice on what form it should take and how to get it off the ground. They ensure that as many people get involved as possible. Having worked with fans setting up over 100 trusts since 2001, they advise fans on what works and what doesn't and give examples of good ideas from other places.
As the fans who get involved are volunteers, it's important that they don't get disheartened or feel they wasted time on something that hasn't delivered, Supporters Direct help them avoid going up blind alleys and instead spend their time on things that will be positive and make a difference. They also take some of the load off the fans' hands having full-time staff dedicated to a group of clubs who are at the end of a phone to advise, if needed. They also pay for all the legal costs of setting up a Trust and provide small grants, to cover things like advertising, printing, and room hire etc.
Why form a Trust? How does a Trust differ from an Independent Supporters' Association?
The main difference between a Trust and an ISA is organisational. The legal assets of an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) can be owned 'corporately' rather than being vested in individuals; members have limited liability (and so do the elected officers) and the full force of the law can be brought to bear on anyone who misappropriates the funds. It's also a democratic not-for-profit body. Finally, it states clearly and boldly that a key aim is the securing of representation and strengthening the links between club and community.
It's the 'big idea' that is often needed to get things off the ground - the idea at the heart is "why always be criticising, when we can be running and participating - we think we can bring huge benefits to the club, so give us a chance to own the club we love - or at least a part of it!".
It's about putting a professional face to the club and saying 'we're not a bunch of raggy-arsed fans' but that we're capable, skilled people with something to offer the club. That doesn't mean that you're unable to criticise the club - as a democratic organisation, the members determine your policy and stance towards the club - but an IPS imposes certain disciplines on a group that we think can only be a good thing - democracy, accountability and transparency - and this can only reinforce the points we make.
What about the responsibility on Trustees?
Responsibility is limited to obeying the constitution and the will of the members. If you do what the rules state and obey the members, and end up in strife, it's the Trust that gets sued, not you individually as committee members. If however committee members break the rules and things go wrong, they can be personally liable for any damages - the claim comes from the members who will say 'we're not covering your back when you broke the rules in the first place'.
In terms of responsibility, they are merely to observe the constitution and run a well ordered ship - which shouldn't be any different from what any well-run organisation should be doing. The 'statutory responsibility' is to get
the rule changes approved by the Registrar of Friendly Societies and doing annual accounts and elections - again, something every good organisation should be doing.
Do you have to be a shareholder to join a Trust?
No. The beauty of a Trust is that you get the best of both worlds. Fans that have a small number of shares can proxy them to the trust so they are voted en bloc and make a bigger difference. But fans who aren't shareholders can just join, and any shares the Trust buys or gets are owned collectively by all the members. This is a way for people to become shareholders, along with other fans. You bring together the fans with shares and the fans without shares, and pool the power of both groups to everyone's benefit.
Can members get their own share certificates?
Different clubs have done different things. Some have printed share certificates for members of the Trust for them to frame. AFC Wimbledon have done this and at Chesterfield life members of the Trust got a certificate saying that they were a permanent shareholder in the Trust, and as the Trust owned the club, they were an owner of the club. If you are a shareholder in the club itself it's up to the club to provide a certificate.
Why are trusts so concerned about links with the local community, even in cases where the club is in crisis?
A lot of people look at how football has gone over the past 10 years and feel that the community roots of a club in some places have been lost - the clubs seems to care more about money, or sponsors, than fans who live in the area. The classic example is a Premiership club that doesn't allow a supporters club to be based in the area where it plays, as they assume everyone there supports them anyway.
The club represents the very best of the community it plays in, and can act as a symbol of that community for everyone to support. Trusts are about making that really happen. It's usually the fans who care most about these things as they often live in the community or used to, and they want to see the kids in the town centre on a Saturday wearing the local club shirt rather than a club 250 miles away.
Must members be over 16 to vote in elections or meetings?
As a Trust is a legal entity (under company law, it's classed as a company, but it's a company that only allows one share per person and is not-for-profit), minors aren't allowed to be full, voting members. However you can have a young fans' section which has a representative on the Trust committee, and young fans can join. You can create a category called 'associate membership' for example, which is cheaper, which means young fans can do everything except vote at the AGM and in the elections.
But your youth section can have votes itself, and the Trust can take that on board in its own decisions. At Chesterfield for example, their young fans' section was set up expressly to bring out the next generation of leaders of the club - the people who would be running it in 10-20 years time.
If you would like further information, or have a specific question you would like answered, please feel free to contact us!