“Change the World…deliver good governance.” Not exactly a slogan to set the pulse racing, is it? But “Change the World…eradicate poverty/modern slavery/sexual abuse/famine/disease”? Now you’re talking!
Instinctively, as those working in charities or as volunteers, we want to do things that make a difference, that we feel count towards delivering our charity’s goals. And all too often it doesn’t feel like the “back room” stuff is up there.
But the reality is that the better a charity is run, the more effective it will be in doing the things it was set up to do in the first place.
And that starts at the top, with the trustees. Trustees who are engaged and committed, who devote time to their responsibilities and prepare well for meetings will deliver a clear strategy for the charity, set a sound business plan, clearly delegate the delivery of those to the CEO and others in the senior leadership, and exercise effective oversight. A clear understanding of the duties and responsibilities of trustees will ensure that the CEO feels empowered to do the job for which they were recruited, rather than feeling they are being “micro managed”. And trustees will “set the tone” for what goes on at the charity. They will adopt practical, sensible policies and procedures which reflect current law and best practice and are appropriate to their organisation and its staff, volunteers, beneficiaries – and just as importantly, they will “live by” those policies and expect everyone else in the organisation to do so, too.
If the trustees don’t do that then it will all too quickly become apparent to others who will conclude it doesn’t matter: standards slip, in minor ways at first – but potentially in more significant and damaging ways, too. Reputational damage can soon follow.
This all matters to staff, volunteers and beneficiaries – but it matters to potential supporters and donors too. Those with money to give, be they individuals or grant making charities, are much more likely these days to “do their homework”. It may seem a small thing, but the fact that the accounts and annual return are filed a few days late gets noticed, and people form impressions of an organisation very quickly.
Grant making charities will want to know that you have the relevant policies and procedures in place; they do not want to see their own good name tarnished by governance failings in organisations they support.
It can never be the case in our charitable endeavours that “the ends justify the means”. We need to do, and be seen to do, “the right thing in the right way”. That was the ICO’s mantra in relation to GDPR – but it applies equally to everything we do.
So what practical steps can we take? A few things: make sure your governing document is up-to-date and gives you the powers you need to deliver your objects; make sure your trustees receive regular training on charity law and practice (lots of law firms, accountants and investment managers provide courses, often for free); regularly review your policies and procedures to make sure they are up-to-date and relevant to what you are doing – and that they are being implemented in practice; assess the quality of your governance by using the charity governance code; if there are tensions between the leadership team and the trustees, don’t let them fester – seek external help and advice, legal or otherwise.
Good governance really does help good stuff get done!
Gordon Reid is a partner and head of charities at Moore Barlow. He serves as a trustee for a number of charities. He will be taking part in a session at Faith Charities Week tomorrow morning giving a legal update on governance, safeguarding and HR issues.