Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Do charities expect too much of their trustees?

As part of Trustees' Week the Guardian have published an article which asks: Do charities expect too much of their trustees?

In recent weeks the responsibility of charity boards has been under the spotlight, but being a trustee has many benefits.

The downfall of Kids Company, where the finger of blame was pointed at its trustees, threw the spotlight on the responsibilities boards hold. But it also brought into question whether charities expect too much of their trustees who are after all volunteers, typically motivated by their passion for the cause.

Trustees have a statutory duty to protect their charity’s assets and a duty of care to its service users and they can be held liable if the charity goes under. But scandals such as that which hit Kids Company are rare. Among the 160,000 organisations in England and Wales which the Charity Commission regulates, in the last financial year only 1,024 charities were being looked at for failures and weaknesses in their charity management and another 103 were being investigated for failing to meet their statutory duties (pdf).

“Most of the 940,000 trustees in England and Wales do run their charities properly,” says the commission’s director of policy and communications Sarah Atkinson. “Recent high-profile cases have highlighted, perhaps more clearly for some people, that trustees do hold overall responsibility for their charity.”

However, trustees say that the benefits – both personal and professional – which trusteeship brings are rewards enough in exchange for the responsibilities they hold.

“The benefits are huge in terms of filling a skills gap,” says Katherine Sparkes, chief executive of Getting on Board – which encourages board-level volunteering. “You have opportunities in fundraising, networking a whole range. As a trustee I have taken my family to Downing Street for example and worked with street gangs in Brazil.”

A survey by Getting on Board revealed that 96% of trustees had learned new skills from sitting on a board, 73% said it had boosted their confidence and gave them experience they could take to their workplace; 38% said the role had inspired them to become leaders. Alex Farrow is a trustee for the Diana Award charity – set up in memory of Princess Diana and devoted to supporting and developing young people. He works for a youth policy thinktank and lists the ability to read a financial spreadsheet among the new skills he has acquired: “I’ve also learned how to manage a chief executive – and holding the chief executive to account is a huge part of the role.”

Read the full article by Debbie Andalo on the Guardian website.

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