Our key lessons from Trustees’ Week 2020

As we come to the end of Trustees’ Week 2020, I thought I’d take a look back at the events and activities to share what we’ve learned and link to useful resources and guidance.

I started the week by saying its been an extremely challenging year for charities and their boards. I’ve now attended online events with hundreds of trustees and listened to their discussions on how the sector needs to adapt in response to the pandemic.

From this, I finish the week with a renewed confidence in the collective ability of trustees to navigate these uncertain times. Here are a few of my key lessons from the last week.

Board diversity requires goal setting and ongoing learning

On Tuesday, I joined Rosie Chapman, chair of the Charity Governance Code and Pari Dhillon,  independent consultant, supporting the code steering group to enhance the Diversity Principle.

During the webinar, Pari shared lessons from her work and suggested the following steps boards should take in improving diversity practice:

  • Start by defining why diversity is valuable to your organisation and context. Although diversity is not about representation, decision-making is likely to improve if you reflect the communities you serve and want to serve.
  • Reflect on why particular areas of diversity are not present on your board. Consider barriers to recruitment and board practice and create a plan to address these issues. Pari recommended using online resources by groups such as the Young Trustees Movement and Action for Trustee for Racial Diversity UK.
  • Set context specific and realistic goals which importantly link to your charity’s purpose and context.
  • Review your progress and learn from what works….but also that which doesn’t work!
  • Pari was also keen to set out that this is an ongoing journey which requires the bravery to try and the willingness to learn from mistakes.

Rosie then gave us a run-through of the proposed areas for change in the latest iteration of the code. In particular, she flagged the importance of:

  • ensuring EDI principles are embedded and help deliver the charity’s public benefit
  • making better decisions through a variety of perspectives
  • addressing power imbalances.

You can watch the recording of our webinar and find out more about our work to refresh the Charity Governance Code.

A renewed focus on board dynamics in a pandemic

On Wednesday, we invited our members to join a session to discuss board dynamics. We heard from Diana Garnham, governance advisor and trustee at Skills East Sussex, and Ann Limb, chair of The Scout Association who shared their experiences.

Diana took us through some key things to look out for around the potential breakdown of board dynamics. These included silo’s, self-importance of individual trustees, and a dominant chair or chief executive.

Ann then reflected on the importance of building trust and a strong sense of team, honest and diplomatic feedback, regular structured board reviews, avoiding dense meetings or exclusive language and the importance of humour, but not sarcasm, in disarming situations.

Ann finished by suggesting all board meetings should end with a quick and initial reflection on how the board performed. Ann recommended that boards establish a set of behaviours and objectives and at the end of each meeting, for every trustee to reflect on the grading 1-5.

Given her background in education, Ann said she used the Ofsted grading of:

  • 1: outstanding
  • 2: good
  • 3: requires improvement
  • 4: inadequate.

During the session we shared resources on an individual trustee review and undertaking a board evaluation.

Resilience isn’t just about the bottom line, but it matters

On Thursday, we explored board and organisational resilience. We were joined by:

  • Ros Oakley, Association of Chairs
  • Rui Domingues, Charity Finance Group
  • Philip Kirkpatrick, Bates Wells
  • Alice Rath, a young trustee at Crohn’s & Colitis UK.

The panel discussed the challenge of resilience exploring:

  • different perspectives on how to lead during the pandemic
  • the importance of financial management but also keeping mission focused
  • the considerations around merger and collaboration
  • the value in a diverse board with different perspectives.

I was struck by the importance all speakers placed on keeping a charity’s mission and purpose at the heart of decision-making. Even in a crisis, and especially when that crisis threatens sustainability.

Watch the full recording of the panel discussion.

The basics are key now more than ever

Finally, across all the sessions I’ve been reminded that in this time of face-paced and remote decisions, it’s really important not to lose sight of the basics of good governance. If we fail to undertake trustee training, keep accurate records, make collective decisions or review board performance, we’ll make poorer decisions.

Early this week, the Charity Commission published five new five minute guides which cover what they describe as the ‘core syllabus’ for trustees. We’ve released a new video guide to conducting a board review and have also lifted our member log-in so that any trustee can access NCVO guidance and tools on governance. The member paywall will be back up on 9 November.

Plus, don’t forget that next week we’re launching our new e-Learning module which guides trustees through everything they need to know about their role. Watch this space!

Dan Francis is NCVO’s lead governance consultant. For more regular updates follow @mynameisdanfran or @NCVO on Twitter.

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Dan Francis 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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