Governance Weekly for 17th August

The weekly roundup from VANEL on good governance, charity trusteeship and non-profit leadership. News, information, resources and ideas. Complemented by our monthly “View from the Top” e-newsletter (Trustee Network members only), our “aboutgovernance” online discussion space for leaders and trustees and our @aboutgovernance Twitter feed.

Charity Governance was back in the news again this week and once again for all the wrong reasons. A failure of governance at a Breast cancer helpline charity made it into the news as the Charity Commission clamped down. Whatever the actual details and facts of this particular case, it highlighted to me a couple of lessons that all trustees, committee members and charities should be taking note of.

Firstly the fundamental principle that, as it stands, all trustees of a charity are volunteers and must not receive any payment or renumeration in that role. That a charity trustee was also an employee being paid £31k per year steps over this line, but trustees even receiving small payments are in breach of regulations. Do you ensure that this never happens in your own charity?

The second point the news raises is that of ignorance or not understanding or being misinformed. Allegedly the charity in question ‘made a mistake’. Remember that every trustee or committee member around the board table has equal responsibility to the charity and equal responsibility for keeping to the rules. Was every single one of the trustees of the charity in question ignorant of the rules? If so, make sure this can never happen to you. Every Trustee should understand the rules, their responsibilities and obligations from the moment they go through their induction. The ‘handbook’ and rules they are asked to study should make this clear. Every Trustee should have access to all Charity Commission guidelines and should read them (starting with “The Essential Trustee”). The chair or staff members should always ensure the Trustees are kept informed of rules and regulations and, at least annually, the skills and knowledge of each and every Trustee should be refreshed.

Simply not knowing or not understanding should never be possible. If you’ve got any doubts yourself please do talk to us at VANEL. We have training available – especially our introductory “Induction and Refresher Training for Trustees” course.

A final point raised by this public failure of the charity is around financial management . The indications are that just a few percent of donations and income were spent by that charity on charitable purposes (<10%). The Charity Commission interesting states that an average for a mature charity is around 83% and there is a campaign from the True and Fair Foundation to set a minimum limit on this at 65%. Whatever the figure, it stills falls to the charity board and Trustees to police this and ensure their charity is acting appropriately. Perhaps it’s worth us all stepping back and see how well our own charities are doing on this account.

That’s it for this week, and as it’s the Summer there will be a short break next week with no “Governance Weekly”. I’ll be back in two weeks.

Karl Elliott, Development Manager / 01472 287548 – for an overview of our resources and information – for the Trustee Network blog and information – our Governance blog – private discussion space for trustees