19th October 2018

Since the updated Charity Governance Code was published in the summer of 2017, many charities have begun to assess themselves against the recommended practices contained within it. This will not only allow them to assess whether they need to change current arrangements to ensure compliance, but to also justify not following a particular path.

Some areas of the Code are naturally easier to understand than others, such as ‘Organisational Purpose’ where it is recommended that all trustees can explain the charity’s public benefit. The same is true in ‘Leadership’, where it is recommended that a Board and individual trustees take collective responsibility when making informed decisions. Adhering to these responsibilities should not be too demanding for most.

However, tucked away at the end of Board effectiveness is the following quote:

“The board reviews its own performance and that of individual trustees, including the chair. This happens every year, with an external evaluation every three years.” 

Whilst this generally applies to larger organisations, it is also applicable for smaller charities, with less impetus on specific timeframes. This can be perceived as quite an onerous task; How do you hold people, who give up valuable time week in and out, to account without causing offence? How can you justify committing resource to such things, when budgets are under strain?

As with everything within the Code, it is paramount to apply it to individual circumstances, finding a way to apply it in a manageable way, whilst still seeking to embed the Code’s principles – which, in this case, are to ensure that the Board works effectively as a team, using the right balance of skills, experience, background and knowledge to make informed decisions.

On occasion, Boards employ consultants to come in and undertake a full assessment of effectiveness, sometimes with great success. However, it is likely that many Boards know themselves whether they are effective and would only take such drastic action if they knew there was a deep-rooted problem – such as factions developing or long-standing members no longer making an effective contribution. Although not unheard of, this is an unusual step for mid-tier charities to take.

A far more common, but not yet routine, course of action is to introduce a self-assessment process. This normally involves a short questionnaire for all Board members to complete and return to the chair to collate. This covers not only their own skillset and contribution, but also how they feel the Board functions as a whole. A follow-up to this questionnaire can then be one-to-one meetings with the chair, or even a full Board session to look at flagged areas as a collective. This could potentially lead to an action plan involving training and even a recruitment process.

Whilst this may seem like a step into the unknown for many, there are many example questionnaires available to be used as a starting point which you can quickly tailor to your needs. When approached with an open mind, this should reap rewards for an organisation, upskilling the Board if required and ensuring members feel recognised for the contributions they make.

For more information regarding UNW’s charity and not-for-profit services, please visit our charity and not-for-profit page or you can contact Anne Hallowell, Charity Partner, at annehallowell@unw.co.uk or on 0191 243 6237.

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