Trustees will need to strike a balance between carrying out their charity’s purpose and safeguarding people as they reopen, a governance body has said.
The Chartered Governance Institute (ICSA) has issued the advice as part of new guidance for charity trustees on how to reopen safely.
The guidance outlines a series of practical steps and questions trustees will need to address while planning for the resume of their charity’s activities as lockdown is eased.
Balance between resuming activities and safeguarding
Under charity law, trustees are ultimately responsible for their charity's decision making. Both resuming activities too soon or not doing it at all could be problematic.
The guidance says: “When considering how to reopen physical sites and activities, the trustees will need to balance their legal duties to carry out the charity’s purposes using reasonable care and skill and safeguarding those with whom the charity interacts: staff, volunteers, clients, suppliers and visitors.
“Suspending charitable activity unduly could be seen as trustees not fulfilling their legal duties under charity law.”
Effective governance ‘should not be diluted’
Reopening will inevitably come with risks, and “it will be impossible for any charity” to avoid them all, the guidance says. Trustees should make sure they are following government guidelines, and that their decision-making process is solid.
The guidance says: “For the benefit of clients, staff, volunteers and trustees, sound and effective governance should not be diminished or diluted at this time. Should the worst happen, the trustees and the charity will depend on an audit trail of their decisions, actions and rationale behind each to demonstrate that they acted in good faith, exercising due care and skill.”
The guidance also addresses a series of practical issues, both from a health and safety and from a financial point of view, and includes a risk assessment template and a reopening checklist.
Trustees and senior management ‘need to work together’
Louise Thomson, head of policy (not-for-profit) at ICSA, said: “Since May, the government has announced various steps to ease lockdown, and this has led to much thought within the charity sector about how to reopen offices and other sites in a controlled, measured and safe way.
“It is unlikely that all activities will return to a pre-lockdown situation for the foreseeable future, and trustees and senior management teams need to work together to ensure the return is safe, effective and suitably flexible to respond to further local or national lockdowns.
“As any decision to open up a charity’s physical activities and sites must be made by the board of trustees, collectively, in consultation with the senior management team, this guidance provides an overview of the fundamental issues trustees should be considering, as well as a top-level view of the legal duties placed upon the board.
“Suggested topics and questions that trustees and senior management teams should discuss to fully understand the needs of their charity are also included.”