Some people are a bit strange – and I confess to being one of them. I enjoy serving on Charity Boards. Though often having to turn up after a long day at work, or take unpaid leave, when there are good meetings I come out energised and grateful to God. When the charity has clear direction and purpose, even more so.
But what makes a good Board of trustees? The Charity Commission seems to be putting increasing burdens on trustees in the areas of compliance, financial accounting, risk assessment, policies of an ever expanding nature – and I could go on. Sadly it means that this can often dominate meetings and take up disproportionate amounts of time. Who wants to be a trustee just to do this sort of stuff?
Most articles and training that I find about charity governance cover these compliance aspects. Of course being legally compliant and following best practice is vitally important. I am not trying to play down its importance. The recent issue at Kids Club only highlights too starkly the need for good governance in this area. But is that the whole story?
It certainly is not the reason that I want to be a trustee. There is an excellent resource called “Governance as leadership” by Richard Chait et al. It focuses on three areas – the conformance and legal aspects, the strategic or direction setting, and lastly the generative or thinking about the future.
As well as all the accountability stuff, the Board needs to be able to set a clear vision and mission, with a clear strategic direction. As part of this the Board also needs to work hard on ensuring relevant people have been consulted and people are committed to the direction set.
However perhaps the most important role, often neglected, is thinking about the future. When was the last time your Board set aside substantive time to think about questions such as the changing external environment, what the future might bring, whether to merge or close, or just getting fresh perspectives? Too often an organisation just uses internal sources of information, and focuses its discussions on the current or planned activities. Regularly asking people from outside to talk about trends and their experiences, even if they are competitors, is vital if a Board is really doing its job well.
I would add a fourth – the God seeking. How much time does your Board meet to pray – or does the business predominate? Why not take time after each agenda item to pray for the issues raised or thank Him for His goodness. Is prayer a priority in our organisations, or just an add on at the beginning and end?
The changes in the world around us will mean that in the next few years many organisations will face major crises with finances and staffing levels. It is the role of the trustees to consider the future, not just monitor the present. Charity governance needs an overhaul, and not just in the way the Charity Commission forces us.