I generally have a lot of admiration for Charity Trustees: people who are willing (and able) to commit their time and energy in pursuit of a dream of a supporting a better community, without expectation of reward or recognition of any type.
There will always be odd ‘rogues’ who see being part of a Charity’s governing body as a means to add a gloss to their career aspirations, but such people are usually the exception, and don’t usually stick around long enough to do too much damage...
However some recent research published by the Charity Commission suggests just how far Trustees of Charities are feeling compromised and pressured in a context of government cuts, recessionary pressures, and generally rubbish weather (2012 being one of the wettest on record!):
- last year, the biggest cause of complaints investigated by the commission (86%!) related to charities’ governance: how well (or not) they’re acting within their legal powers and rules, as well as those of the wider legislative framework that charities exist within. You’d therefore imagine that Governance and the law would be the area that most Board of Trustees are concerned with? Wrong – they list support with fundraising as being the most important thing. And 1/3 don’t offer new Trustees any support in understanding their role or responsibilities. http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/RSS/News/pr_birth.aspx
- it also appears most charities are also recruiting new Trustees from within their own staff and volunteers (always highly risky owing to the heightened associated risk of conflicts of interest, amongst others...) . This means bad habits, mis-information and stagnation are all therefore likely becoming increasingly rife in charities as there’s little ‘fresh blood’ to challenge long-held assumptions that may no longer hold true, or practices that need to be changed.
Is it any wonder then that charities’ reputations are increasingly under scrutiny and their reputation and place being questioned? Especially when a wealth of support exists for charities to recruit Trustees with little/no cost, and inductions for new Trustees can be structured very easily and cheaply using the materials freely available from the Charity Commission.
So what’s going wrong? Why aren't charities making the most of this (free) support? Why are bad practices emerging on such a large scale that risk damaging this sectors’ credibility? Could it be because the world they’re used to – the world where there were local funded advisors who would pro-actively keep them aware of issues, opportunities and risks through the likes of CVS’ is fast disappearing and they've not realised just how bad the fallout could/will be? Or more frighteningly, have charities always prioritised the money over compliance, and it’s only recently that we've noticed it due to more insightful research being undertaken and published?