Scarcely a week seems to go by without some bad news story about charity governance. Kids Company, fundraising scandals, harsh words from a House of Commons Committee; there has been a stream of news articles illustrating how bad governance can be and the terrible implications of this. And yes, bad governance is clearly a serious problem.
But is this a fair picture of governance in the sector? No! There are many truly amazing but unsung boards out there, steering their charities through perilous waters with good judgement, great courage and lots of hard work.
How do I know this? Because I have just been reading through examples of many such boards. I have had the privilege to be one of the judges in the inaugural Charity Governance Awards. Together with many much wiser heads than mine, we shortlisted from over 100 entries, and the calibre was truly impressive. We were looking for boards which had shown real leadership in improving impact, embracing opportunity and risk, demonstrating diversity and inclusion, or turning around their charity’s fortunes.
It was a humbling and inspiring experience: instances of trustees making tough decisions for the long term, going the extra mile to create vibrant, diverse boards, seizing new opportunities without betraying the charity’s values, to name but a few.
Whilst the challenges and the responses varied widely (as did the nature and size of the charities), all showed great commitment and leadership. They seemed to me to demonstrate the personal qualities of good trustees, as outlined by charity lawyer Philip Kirkpatrick recently: conscientiousness, inquisitiveness, courage and judgement – meshed with effective challenge.
Of course there are cases of poor governance, and we should study them closely. But there are also many cases of brilliant governance, and we can, perhaps, learn even more from them. Certainly we should be sharing these stories to bring balance to the flow of bad news and to remind ourselves that the charity sector has much to be proud of.
I am looking forward to 12 May when the winners will be announced and we can celebrate their success. But, even more so, I am eagerly anticipating sharing the stories of the shortlisted through an ebook that will be compiled soon afterwards. There are wonderful Boards out there, and we all deserve to know about them!