Governance round-up: March 2021

A generation of lockdown trustees

In January, as the UK approached another national lockdown and a year of remote working, it struck me how many trustees I’ve worked with that have never met their fellow board members in person, visited their charity’s offices, and only ever attended virtual board meetings.

I decided to ask these lockdown trustees what their biggest challenges were about joining boards remotely. Two clear responses came through.

  • Building informal relationships – this has undoubtedly been difficult. When you only see faces through infrequent business-focused virtual meetings, it’s much harder to build an understanding of people’s motivations, personal circumstances and to have more generative ideas-based discussions. It’s also harder to read people’s body language and judge reactions.
  • Understanding of the organisation – this includes its staff, the services it runs and the beneficiaries. Amelia Chong, a new trustee at Young Dementia UK, summed this up: ‘One of the most important things you can do as a new trustee is to get to know the charity inside out – the real experiences of its beneficiaries, the views of staff and the inner workings of the board. This is undoubtedly more challenging during a global pandemic without the benefit of being able to visit the charity offices and spend time with key staff’.

Eight lessons

I then asked how trustees had overcome these challenges and to share some top tips. Although it was clear that there’s no simple solution, there was a lot we could learn. Here are the eight lessons I drew out from the responses.

  1. Ask lots of questions and capitalise on being new. More so than ever there is license to probe and ask questions or have preparation meetings to get your head around the history.
  2. Introduce yourself properly to the board. Jules Mason, a new trustee at INASP, flagged that, ‘All the trustees had seen my CV as part of the recruitment process but didn’t know who I was’. Jules used his first meeting to properly inform his fellow trustees about who he was as an individual.
  3. Get involved, volunteer for subcommittees or offer to support on specific projects. Louis Vine of the Goldsmiths Community Association shared: ‘Getting stuck into providing some specialised support to the organisation was a fantastic opportunity to make a positive impact and also get under the hood’.
  4. Create space to connect and chat outside of formal meetings, having face-to-face conversations where possible. Consistently all those that responded said carving out space for the informal discussion, arranging short introductory meetings, with individual trustees and building personal relationships was essential and good use of time.
  5. Do your preparations, even more so than normal. Preparation is always important, but never more so than when you can’t visit the charity.
  6. Capitalise on the advantages. Among challenges, there have been some advantages such as more efficient and accessible meetings. I know I’ve spoken to lots of organisations who for the first time in a long time have not struggled to get a quorum at their AGM for example! Kate Tokley of Barnet Mencap shared her experience that she ‘was much more comfortable and confident applying and being interviewed online. Face-to-face would’ve been much more nerve-racking and I might not have come across so well’.
  7. Work with the chair. Offer feedback and thoughts on how your induction and onboard could be improved, both in terms of what you need to get up to speed and how it might be improved for the future.
  8. Take your time: Lucy Moore, a trustee at the Activity Alliance, pointed out that governing remotely is challenging: it takes time and that we shouldn’t expect things to come as quickly as they might in normal times. There are some advantages to taking things slowly as it allows you to build relationships and understand the context.

I am so grateful to seven lockdown trustees and governors:

  • Louis Vine, Goldsmiths Community Association
  • Kate Tokley, Barnet Mencap
  • Hannah Roberts, Balloons
  • Lucy Moore, Activity Alliance
  • Amelia Chong, Young Dementia UK (before its merger)
  • Jules Mason, INASP
  • Emma Palmer, Governor for Hull College for many years and has led on their recent recruitment.

Thank you all for your insight and wiliness to share these lessons.

Emerging from lockdown

As national lockdown starts to ease and voluntary organisations begin opening up premises and resuming services or activities, we’d like to hear from trustees about the issues organisations have related to:

  • governance
  • strategic and operational challenges your organisation might be facing
  • organisational challenges.

This would help NCVO understand what we can do to offer further support. To help with this, I would be really grateful if you could take 5-10 minutes by 31 March to complete this short survey.

Recruit trustees through BoardLead

Is your organisation seeking talented, committed professionals for your charity board?

BoardLead, a programme of the US-based firm Cause Strategy Partners, is a trustee recruitment, placement, training and support programme. They place executives and employees from Fortune 500 companies and professional services firms on the boards of select charity organisations.

Over the next few months, BoardLead is working with three of their US clients who have a presence in the UK, to connect their London-based professionals interested in trusteeship to local charities in London.

With support from UK partners, NCVO and Trustees Unlimited, the opportunity to participate in BoardLead is now open to charities operating in London and Southeast. Applications take about an hour to complete and are due Thursday 1 April. Start your BoardLead application today.

To learn more about how BoardLead works with charities to recruit professionals for trustee service:

Please review the qualifications below and click here to complete the online BoardLead application by Thursday 1 April 2021.

Qualifications to apply to BoardLead

  1. A registered charity operating in London.
  2. Ability to elect or co-opt potential new trustees by 30 September 2021.
  3. Organisation must maintain active Trustee Indemnification Insurance.
  4. Board must have a minimum of five board members.
  5. Organisation must be looking to grow, strengthen and develop its trustee board.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Alexandra Hallock.

From the commission

Campaign to help charity trustees

The Charity Commission has launched a campaign aimed at helping trustees refresh their knowledge of charity governance and be ‘certain in uncertain times’. They aim to promote the five short guides released last year.

  1. Does every decision help your charity with its mission? Charity purposes and rules guide
  2. Could your charity be drifting into activities that your charity is not set up to do? Making decisions at a charity guide
  3. Is your charity reporting the right things at the right time? What to send to the Charity Commission and how to get help guide
  4. Could you spot a conflict of interest and manage it? Addressing conflicts of interest in a charity guide
  5. Is there more you can do to prevent fraud? Managing charity finances guide

Engaging with divisive issues

The Charity Commission published its review of the National Trust this month, concluding that the charity did not breach charity law in the work it has done to examine links between its properties and histories of colonialism and slavery. The commission concluded that this work fitted within the charitable objects.

The regulator has also published some key reflections on the National Trust case and used the opportunity to remind trustees of their duty to ensure that all activity is aligned with the charity’s purpose

Training and events

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