Trustees have ‘stepped up’ to support charity leaders during the crisis, ACEVO chair says

21 Oct 2020 News

Rosie Ferguson, chief executive, The House of St Barnabas

Charity trustees have “stepped up” during the coronavirus crisis, making decisions more quickly and efficiently than in the past, the chair of ACEVO said yesterday. 

Rosie Ferguson, chief executive of The House of St Barnabas and chair of ACEVO, was speaking at a panel session during a London Funders event called the Camference.

She described some of the trends that ACEVO members have reported during the crisis.

She said: “Governance has stepped up. Our sector is often characterised by clunky, risk-averse trustee boards, who are soaking up administrative capacity and blocking innovation. 

“But actually, many CEOs report that that has not been the reality. There has been quick, responsive decision-making. Trustees overall have been really focused on beneficiary needs, and much more willing to take risks. 

“Of course, that's not the case in all situations. The relationships between CEOs and chairs have come under increasing pressure. But I think that has provided an exciting blueprint for the future in terms of how governance can be more responsive.”

Charities have also been quick in innovating and adapting, she said. “Innovation has been fast forwarded. Much- needed change projects around digital and inclusion that would have taken years and cost thousands of pounds were accelerated overnight as charities put their services online and confronted some of the racism in their own organisations as the Black Lives Matter movement took the spotlight.”

However, she said the positives are “dwarfed” by negatives, with the crisis having a disproportionate impact on vulnerable people, causing a high number of redundancies in charities and a “gulf” in their finances – especially for charities relying on earned income.

Governance needs to support work on race equity 

She also said chairs of infrastructure organisations have been meeting to address race equity in the sector and think about the future.

She said: “We've had a couple of meetings, firstly, looking at race equity, and how do we embed that in governance across the sector. Often there can be a desire to do something at the chief executive and staff level, but if that's not really supported a governance level, it can be tokenistic. 

“That collaboration is also looking at what the sector needs from infrastructure over the next two to three years. How do we make sure that we are as efficient, focused and clear about what we all contribute? And how do we complement each other without at the same time draining resources that could be spent on frontline work?”

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