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Making the most of your Trustees

Recently, one of our directors facilitated a two-day meeting to formulate a new strategy for an international charity. The first day was spent considering where they were as an organisation and where they would like to be. The second day consisted of formulating ideas as to how to get there. This particular charity has 4 officers of a 15 strong executive committee who are nominated as trustees by virtue of their office but report to the executive committee who are responsible for setting the strategy. There is also a "Chief Executive" who is responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the charity. Other charities of course are organised in many different ways. However, the point which became clear on day 1 and which we want to discuss was that the strategy making body felt distanced from those making the day-to-day decisions i.e., the "trustees" (operating as their nominees) and the Chief Executive.

Now much of this was down to perception although clearly there was some areas of poor communication, but the issue surrounded the potential alienation of a key group who could be of great help in the development of the charity. Having raised the issue early in their deliberations there was a quick fix to be made and we were pleased that this was recognised. In the aftermath of the conference when some papers were circulated setting out the timetable of actions to be taken this was No 1 on the list of priorities. The interesting thing though was how much effort this group were prepared to put in to achieve their goals.

We do not take the time commitment made by a governing body lightly because many have a day job to do as well. However, when you have a group who are truly committed to the charity and not just there because it looks good on their CV, then it is amazing how far people are willing to go to achieve the goals of their organisation. This group, almost without exception were volunteering to take on tasks which would help in the development of their charity and not just leaving it to the executive team to get on with . Now there is a line, particularly as charities get larger between the overall strategy and its implementation which can get blurred and which can have a negative impact on the running of the charity but if handled right, the governance body can be a real driving force for good in achieving the success of the charity.

However, it must be made clear to potential trustees exactly what is expected of them regarding time commitments and workload. The smaller the charity, the more involved the trustees are likely to be in the running of the charity, particularly those charities which rely totally or primarily on volunteers. It is important that those seeking to recruit trustees don’t sell a dream but the reality of what is expected of the new recruits. Too many times we see a rapid turnover of trustees because the charity were not honest in their expectations. So be honest with potential trustees and with those seeking to become trustees, make sure you understand what is expected of you and agree what can be delivered by you.

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Sue Thorn
Aug 02, 2022

I quite agree. I have carried out more than one governance review for societies where the body actually running the society was not the body designated the trustees. The issues they had with poor decision structures, lack of commitment etc, were all resolved by simplifying and regularising the structure at the top.

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