Governance round-up: May 2017

NCVO’s manifesto, what trustees can do

At the beginning of the month we launched our manifesto. Our overriding message is that we think people getting involved and helping others are among our country’s biggest assets. Our message to candidates from all political parties is that this is a good time to think about how we can support and encourage volunteers and charities.

The manifesto makes specific asks in five key areas.

  • Make it easier and more rewarding for people to volunteer
  • Support local communities for a generation to come
  • Make it easier for charities and volunteers to support our public service
  • Make it easier for people to build their skills and get a good job
  • Give everybody a stake in post-Brexit Britain

We want to encourage trustees to discuss these and other public policy issues which impact their charities’ work at board meetings. Trustees should identify how to best to articulate these messages and ensure local candidates engage with them.

There’s a lot of advice and support out there to help you raise issues you care about safely, without risking your reputation or falling foul of the rules. In particular trustees should review Speaking out: Guidance on campaigning and political activity by charities (CC9).

Models of governance

In Civil Society, Tania Mason has investigated the introduction of unitary boards (models where paid senior staff join the board as executive directors), exploring arguments for and against as well as questioning the Commission’s role in agreeing when a board can adopt the model.

While I recognise our sector is very diverse and there is not a ‘one size fits all’ model – as the advocacy project example in Tania’s article demonstrates – I do wonder if the concept of introducing unitary boards can sometimes be seen as a ‘silver bullet’. This means that other underlying governance issues such as the recruitment of a skilled, committed and diverse board, and the investment in relationships between trustees and the quality of information they receive, are overlooked.

Andrew Hind’s view that ‘it is easy to find examples in the corporate sector where the unitary board structure has not provided adequate checks and balances’ is, I think, a significant point. As is Tania’s conclusion in her thought piece that often ‘it’s not the structure that determines the success of a charity, it’s the quality of the people involved’.

Tips for building a successful new charity

Jo Owen, the co-founder of Teach First, has written an article containing some wisdom on How to build a successful charity from scratch – in seven easy steps, for both new and established charities in the Guardian. I think there may be a hint of sarcasm with Jo’s use of the word ‘easy’ but it’s hard to disagree with the recommendations!

From the Commission

The Charity Commission has announced that Helen Stephenson will become their next chief executive in July when Paula Sussex steps down. Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, has welcomed the appointment, recognising Helen’s excellent experience of both the modern charity sector and government.

Update on the new code of governance

As regular readers of this update will know, I’ve been working closely with the governance code steering group over the past few months to review feedback on the draft code and to redevelop a final version. We are making good progress and are aiming to get a final version published early in the summer. Rosie Chapman, chair of the group, has recently written this update on our progress.

Survey on service user governance involvement

Through the William Plowden Fellowship Rebecca Johnstone is researching service users’ involvement in organisational governance with a specific focus on children and young people’s charities. If you operate in this sector, then Rebecca would very much value your feedback irrespective of current governance arrangements. Visit the short survey here. A report with key findings will be published later this year as part of the fellowship.

NCVO training and events

Governance forum – 3 July

NCVO’s governance forum meets twice a year with the purpose of providing peer support, learning and the sharing of good practice for individuals from organisations across civil society about good governance. The next governance forum will provide an introduction to the new charity governance code, exploring practically how to use the new code which is due to be published in the coming month.

Sign up to the next governance forum

Trustee Conference – 14 November

The Trustee Conference is our leading event for trustees. Join us as we explore what good governance looks like for modern charities.


For more regular updates follow me @mynameisdanfran or @NCVO on Twitter.

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Dan is responsible for NCVO’s governance consultancy offer, focusing on governance reviews, board performance and trustee training. He joined NCVO from the National Union of Students (NUS) where, as a long standing consultant, he supported the organisational development of local students’ unions as charities.

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