36: Trustees’ week 2021 – celebrating milestones and keeping your charity going in the right direction
It’s Trustees’ Week again, a time to celebrate the achievements and hard work of the estimated one million trustees who give their time to run charities and voluntary groups across the UK. It can be a time to reflect on what is working well in a charity and areas which may need refreshing or a little improvement.
Challenging times (still)
Trustees’ Week 2021 comes after another challenging year for trustees who have had to continue to adapt to pandemic conditions in often increasingly straitened circumstances with increasing demands.
Trustees have recognised that the pandemic has heightened risks in many areas. For example, in Charities Fraud Awareness Week last month, the Charity Commission referred to figures showing that around 65% of charities felt the pandemic had increased their risk of fraud. That appeared to be borne out, alongside figures of 1,059 separate incidents of fraud reported by charities and almost £8.6 million of lost funds in the last financial year.
While some communication can be easier with increased remote working, maintaining oversight and risk control can be more challenging and the mechanics of decision-making and record-keeping have to be modified.
Amidst all the other demands, the added pressures of the pandemic make it even more important that Trustees make time and space to review their governance and satisfy themselves that they feel confident in their processes.
Doing this doesn’t have to be involved or burdensome. One analogy that is often used for charity governance is that of the charity as a bus – if you want to keep the bus on the road and safe, you don’t need to do a full service every month, but you need basic regular maintenance. It can also help to take a ‘gut feeling’ sounding – if you feel like the bus is careering away and you don’t feel you are fully in control of the road conditions, it can be a signal to ease back, take stock of your environment and re-assess your journey.
What help is available?
In Trustees’ Week 2020, the Charity Commission released its ‘five-minute guides’ for trustees, covering the ‘basics that trustees need to know’, and these remain a good refresher, or starting-point for a new trustee. They cover financial oversight, achieving a charity’s purposes, good decision making, addressing conflicts of interest and what to file with the commission and what support is available and act as gateway documents to the commission’s fuller guidance.
There’s also a wealth of free events available online during Trustees’ week covering topics in areas such as trustee skills and responsibilities, governance reviews, trustee recruitment and diversity, fundraising compliance and specific topics such as financial statements, insurance and cyber resilience.
Remember, remember … the Charity Governance Code
The guiding principles underlying a charity’s governance can be found in the Charity Governance Code. The Code is designed to help charities and their trustees achieve high standards of governance. It is voluntary, but is considered best practice.
The code is built around seven principles: organisational purpose; leadership; integrity; decision-making, risk and control; board effectiveness; equality, diversity and inclusion; and openness and accountability.
It is a long document, but is intended to be used as a practical tool in a process of continuous improvement – the ongoing maintenance of the charity bus. For a quick guide to the code and each of the principles, see our short film series on our Governance page (also available on our YouTube channel).
And celebrate achievements
Importantly, the code is regarded by the Charity Commission as setting a standard against which trustees can expect to be measured.
When assessing your charity’s governance, however, it is important to recognise not just where some maintenance might be needed, but also the milestones and achievements – and especially so in Trustees’ Week.