Coronavirus and governance: What charity trustees need to think about

For our latest covid-19 guidance for charities, please visit our coronavirus pages on NCVO Knowhow.

Coronavirus will have implications for charities as well as their staff, volunteers and beneficiaries.  In this blog, I set out some key questions which trustees should consider when thinking about how best to support their organisations. I also share some practical guidance on meeting remotely.

Questions for trustees to ask…

  1. Do we have, or need to develop a plan which:
    • sets out the potential risks and explores different scenarios
    • identifies responses to manage these risks
    • gives authority to staff or individual trustees to make key tactical decisions quickly
    • sets out a clear line of authority and decision making in the case of absence
  2. Can we refocus our efforts and activities, in line with our charitable purpose, to respond to coronavirus?
  3. What are our most essential operations and services? How could we continue to operate these in the event of isolation or staff absences?
  4. What organisations can we partner with to continue to deliver services or provide new support?
  5. What extra flexibility or support might employees, volunteers and beneficiaries need at this time and how can we communicate with them?
  6. What immediate actions do we need to take to manage our finances – considering cash flow and increased contingency costs?
  7. Can we speak to funders about the impact of cancelling, delaying project activities, or even in repurposing funds?
  8. How can the board and staff team utilise technology to continue to meet and make decisions if we cannot meet in person?
  9. How might this impact on our corporate decision making, audits and filing deadlines as well as meetings such as AGM’s?

Can we reprioritise work to help capacity?

Organisations and individuals only have a limited capacity. One of the greatest contributions a board can make is to help decide what can be delayed or dropped. The external environment is evolving rapidly. As a result there’s a need for organisations to respond quickly. Trustees should therefore consider if they can support by reprioritising activities and adjusting expectations on delivery and reporting. This will likely apply to everything from KPI’s to the timing of board papers.

Holding remote board meetings

Now that the government has advised against the movement and gathering of people, it’s advisable to consider holding meetings differently. The commission’s charities and meetings CC48 guidance sets out the rules for remote meetings.

The guidance says that trustees may choose to conduct meetings by electronic means. Trustees can do this unless their governing document specifically prohibits it. However according to case law, trustees should be able to both ‘see and hear’ each other. You may want to try one of the following free or low cost internet video facilities such as Google Hangouts, Zoom or Skype

A well-organised remote meeting can be as effective and an in person meeting. This article explores six useful tips for successful remote meetings including:

  1. Choose the right tools – carefully select the means by which you hold the meeting and make sure all participants have access to this.
  2. Preparing a meeting beforehand – consider the format and agenda.
  3.  Have a plan B – technology can fail so you should always have a backup.
  4.  Be organised during the meeting – chairing can be harder when you’re in different locations. It’s harder to pick up on body language etc.– set clear times and stick to the plan.
  5.  Behave appropriately – agree some ground rules for online meetings and stick to them. This is important for any meeting.
  6.  Don’t ignore the “post remote meeting” – it’s easy to shut your laptop or put down the phone and forget the meeting happened. Make a list of clear actions, record these and assign responsibility.

AGM’s and general meetings

AGM’s and general meetings are meetings of your charity members. For some charities this will involve a wider group of people.Due to this, physical general meetings will be something to postpone or hold remotely over the coming weeks and months. Similar rules apply to holding remote meetings and board meetings. You can read the guidance here.

It’s important to note that not all charities are required to hold AGMs and they’re not a legal requirement for companies. You should check your governing documents and make sure you’re clear on the requirements. Where your governing document requires you to hold an AGM at a specific time, or to reach what might be an unachievable quorum  – we recommend notifying the Charity Commission in advance. In notifying them you can explain that you intend to deviate from the rules in your governing document.

Further guidance and reading for trustees

And if you want to stay up to date with all our coronavirus guidance and other resources from NCVO, sign up for our email updates.


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Avatar photo 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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