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February 20th, 2012 by Janet Thorne

Well, that is what quite a few charities have said to me in a moment of frankness, but it’s not a point of view you often hear in the public discourse about volunteering.

The Big Society, the Giving White Paper, RockCorps etc all focus on getting  more people to volunteer through initiatives  such as rewards for volunteering, micro volunteering, employee volunteering, as though drumming up an army of volunteers is a solution in itself.

However, as anyone who has either worked with volunteers, or been one themselves, knows, it’s not quite as simple as that. Many people have had a negative experience of volunteering – a project jeopardised by an unreliable volunteer perhaps, or conversely, the frustration of waiting around feeling  under-utilised.

It’s not that charities don’t need more volunteers – for example almost half all charities have at least one vacancy on their board (and that vacancy means not only a role unfilled but pressure on remaining board members) and over 50% of charities we surveyed struggle to access the skills they need. And it’s not that volunteers can’t do wonderful things – many charities could not survive a day without them.

At Reach we are inspired on a daily basis by what volunteers do for charities, including our own where they do everything from service delivery, IT maintenance and software development through to market research, communications strategies, and much, much more.

The problem is that recruiting, training and managing volunteers requires a big investment of time, an investment which can outweigh the benefits a volunteer might  bring. The stakes are even higher in skills based volunteering where there is a greater initial investment (identifying requirements, shaping them into a viable volunteering role, and then attracting and selecting the person with the right skills, availability, motivation and location) and also greater benefits (increased capacity, an injection of valuable skills and expertise, a fresh perspective drawn from experience in other sectors, to name but a few).

It can be tricky to get it right (it can be so difficult to turn down that kind offer of help, even when you know deep down that you should…) and if you get just one part wrong, and sometimes even when you do it all right, you can find yourself having to re-recruit whilst covering for the absence of a key volunteer. So many charities conclude that it’s just not worth the bother.

What the sector needs is a more balanced approach to volunteering,  one which broadens the focus from increasing the supply of volunteers to stimulating demand and raising the quality of volunteering – helping and inspiring charities to identify which roles volunteers could effectively play in their organisations and more flexible and effective ways of recruiting those volunteers. Most volunteers are still recruited by word of mouth, for example, a system that might work well for some charities blessed with good networks, but does nothing for the less well connected -or for diversity.

We have fantastic volunteers on our own register, languishing for want of being asked, and it seems a crying shame to see such great potential going to waste, but until there is more focus on supporting charities to engage volunteers better, and more investment in matching supply and demand better through more flexible and effective recruitment tools, volunteering will not fulfil its potential.

Janet Thorne leads Reach as Chief Executive

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Got it
June 20th, 2011 by Guest Contributor

What are the skills that are needed to meet the funding challenges and opportunities ahead? That is the key question that Richard Gutch believes voluntary organisations must address in order to survive and thrive. In the wake of Reach research highlighting the skills gap in income generation, he provides some pointers to the type of skills that the third sector needs to harness.


Broadly speaking, modern charities have four major potential sources of income: fundraising, public service delivery, trading and enterprise, and finance and investment. I would suggest that every organisation has the potential to exploit at least one of these areas more effectively than they are doing at present and take their income generation efforts to another level.

What often holds them back from doing this is a lack of confidence, capability or capacity … or a combination of all three. As Reach’s recent survey has shown, the skills necessary to take advantage of new funding opportunities are all too often in short supply, especially among smaller organisations.

Reach has seen a steady growth in the number of charities crying out for more hands-on fundraising support.

There are certainly potential volunteers out there with skills that are directly transferable to the business of planning and making the ask. For example, a corporate client account manager might make a great corporate fundraising advisor.

But, with charitable donors becoming ever more sophisticated, there are fundamental issues that must be addressed in order to underpin the fundraising effort. These entail enlisting a broad range of business skills to drive income generation forward. Fortunately, these skills are highly transferable. And I would suggest that many voluntary organisations could access them by enlisting the support of volunteers with the right kind of professional backgrounds. For example:

  • A clear and compelling strategy and vision to engage funders – a volunteer management consultant could help crystallize this for you.
  • Using social media and new technology to engage new donor audiences – a digital marketer could help an organisation reach a younger audience and avoid being ‘left behind’ by technological developments.
  • Demonstrating and articulating impact – a social researcher could help you get the numbers and a marketing or communications specialist might help you tell your story.
  • Starting or scaling up trading activity – skilled volunteers from the business world could help research and develop a business model which might open up new markets.
  • Obtaining social finance – recruiting a finance director as a trustee or advisor might help an organisation improve its financial literacy and consider options that it was unaware of or perhaps too risk averse to consider.

Any foray into developing new income streams will need to involve trustees, which is why it is important that organisations ensure their boards are equipped with the skills to make complex strategic decisions. For example, collaborative working with private and public sector providers is becoming more common, especially when tendering for large contracts. Recruiting highly skilled volunteers on to the board with commercial experience of negotiating joint ventures or strategic business partnerships is one way to ensure that such challenges are tackled effectively.

I am firmly convinced that there is a world of new opportunities out there for the voluntary sector when it comes to income generation. But an organisation’s ability to flourish will depend on its ability to access essential skills every bit as much as the quality of the frontline services it provides.


 

Richard Gutch

Richard is an associate at not-for-profit recruitment specialists Prospectus, Secretary of the National Council for Voluntary Organisation’s Funding Commission and a former Chair of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations.

Guest contributors are invited by Reach to give their own take on issues related to skilled volunteering and trusteeship. We hope you enjoy their articles.

Opinions expressed are those of the writer and may not reflect those of Reach.

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Fountain pen and parchment
October 31st, 2010 by Sarah King

For Trustees’ Week 2010 Reach’s CEO Sarah King kept a diary which was published in Third Sector magazine.

Here it is in full:

Monday
Head into the office wondering if I’ll do anything but live and breathe trusteeship this week.  By lunchtime I wonder how I imagined I might do just one thing even for a day.  Our new IT system gets a review, our business plan is bounced around and I’ve done a return to work interview by the time Mike Nussbaum, former Chair of Volunteering England arrives with Esther.

The office comes to a standstill.  Esther is a guide dog and is beloved.  While Mike and I talk about trusteeship, the challenges facing charity chairs and the issues CEOs can have in trying to coach trustees to be effective – oh look, trusteeship appears – the staff and volunteers creep by to stroke Esther and wallow in her deep brown eyes.

Tuesday
Into the whirl of Trustees’ Week events. Great morning with the Abbeyfield Society looking at recruiting trustees.  I mention I’m going on to an event with 100 chartered accountants interested in trusteeship and leave with four requests for a treasurer in my pocket.

Made it to Accountants Hall despite the best efforts of the Northern Line.  The Trustees’ Week partners are together, competitors and collaborators side by side and by the end of the afternoon 100 retired or retiring accountants seemed keen to get involved.

Stayed on for the CTN lecture.  Nick Hurd warns us life isn’t going to get any easier as trustees.  He leaves us with a question – what can he and his department do to make it easier to run a charity and help trustees become better.  Watch out Nick – ideas coming your way!

Wednesday
In Welwyn Garden City this evening for the first of Reach’s own Trustees’ Week events.  Being out in a local community reminds me why I love my job.  Stories abound of the work of local charities most of whom have very little money and so much scope to tackle reminds me of what can be done if we put our mind to it.  Only 20 miles away from London and Big Society one lady points out ‘the Comprehensive Spending Review is the problem to come, what about the young people outside who have a problem now?’

Thursday
Spend whole journey to Newcastle fighting with technology.  Bitty morning put behind me with the hubbub of a room full of trustees. I talk to one lady running a Toy Library and think how my nephew would love to borrow some of the toys. Another has used a skilled volunteer to write business plan and work out how to show their impact – people’s lives are being changed.  This is what it’s about.

Friday
Come across my notes from Andrew Hind ‘s lecture on Tuesday. He challenged organisations like mine to work together to help trustees do a good job.

We made a start with Trustees’ Week – ‘what next?’ I hear him saying?  What next indeed.

Sarah is Reach’s former Chief Executive, leading the organisation from 2008 until 2012

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Grouped together
September 30th, 2010 by Guest Contributor

Regional Executive Officer, YMCA England Jim Jenkinson reflects on some of the challenges and rewards of building better governing boards.

The YMCA in England is a large and complex federal movement made up of more than 130 autonomous charities, each with their own board of trustees.  Over the past few years, the national body to which these charities are affiliated – YMCA England – has developed a strategic plan aimed at improving corporate governance across the YMCA.

Over the past 13 years I have been involved in the YMCA initially as a member, then a volunteer and finally as an employee.  During that time it has become increasingly evident to me that a more strategic approach to governance was needed. So, I have been delighted to have been given the opportunity to help work to develop the leadership and the sustainability of YMCAs by championing the development of governance.

Like all trustees, YMCAs trustees have significant responsibilities and fulfil demanding roles. They are directing some of the more complex charities, as many YMCAs have several work programmes with a variety of funding sources and legislative frameworks to adhere to. Ultimately, they are responsible for directing services that support and develop some of the most vulnerable young people and communities.

My role is very much about relationship building; getting alongside the YMCA’s leadership and working with them to help improve their effectiveness. It’s a role which has involved a number of key elements, not least communicating my passion about the importance of good governance and the involvement of young people in decision making. I have had to emphasise that, while the Board might find the process of governance development painful, if lasting change is to take place members need to recognise the level of commitment required of them. And while gently challenging the status quo, it has been important for me to ‘stay the course’, supporting trustees (especially the Chair and CEO) through the highs and lows of the process.

Other key roles involved helping Boards to share good practice from elsewhere in the YMCA and externally. And also offering development tools that can help bring about lasting change and significantly improved organisational performance. In this respect, we were fortunate in the YMCA in that we already had a Board Performance Self Assessment tool and a Skills & Competency Audit.  By combining these with our YMCA INSYNC Governance Standard (a YMCA quality standards framework) we were equipped with some essential resources to help shape and improve governance. Furthermore, as I got to grips with my new role, I found that there were numerous external resources and services that could assist YMCA Trustees.  The challenge was to research the most appropriate of these and then make them as accessible as possible to my client group.

I have always felt that the improvement of corporate governance is too big a challenge to ignore. So, what has all the YMCA’s hard work in that direction achieved in the past few years? I think there is clear evidence that things have been transformed through a range of innovations, including:

  • a specific task group dedicated to Governance development
  • a more diverse group of trustees with the right skills and competencies
  • an investment in youth participation
  • regular direct dialogue with young people
  • a formal trustee recruitment process based on a succession plan and a skills, knowledge and competency audit
  • annual away-days that involve young people
  • regular performance self assessments
  • emeritus posts for retiring trustees to retain extensive knowledge

The governance experts write that ‘highly effective governance leads to high performing organisations’.  The YMCA is a fine example of this, as its work continues to expand and it is driven by achieving its Mission and excelling in all areas.  You only have to walk in to a YMCA that has embraced governance development and you can sense that there is a commitment and a real buzz to meet people’s needs.

Trustees at such a YMCA are now better equipped to make a difference and to understand their role in the organisation.

Jim Jenkinson, YMCA

Guest contributors are invited by Reach to give their own take on issues related to skilled volunteering and trusteeship. We hope you enjoy their articles.

Opinions expressed are those of the writer and may not reflect those of Reach.

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Colourful display of files
September 21st, 2010 by Charlotte Zamboni

Andy Bagley is a management consultant who, for the past 20 years, has specialised in performance management and evaluation. As a Reach volunteer, he is currently demonstrating the value and relevance that skills like his can have in the voluntary sector. Andy is collaborating on the monitoring and evaluation of an ambitious scheme to improve the quality of senior management in charities.  And he’d like to see more volunteers with his sort of background step forward to take up similar influential roles.

‘Management consultants may get a bad press, but I know that they can add real value’, declares Andy Bagley. ‘However, not everything is about money. And when I decided I wanted to give something back to the community I thought the best way to do that was by offering my skills to the charity sector.’

Andy put that offer into practice by becoming a Reach volunteer. And it was through Reach that he was introduced to Charityworks: a consortium of national and local charities of varying sizes which runs a unique, high-powered management training programme for first level managers. The aim of the scheme is to develop potential high-flyers who are already working in charities and also to attract high calibre newcomers into the sector through a graduate internship programme.

‘After our first year-long programme was completed, we felt that we had developed an innovative and highly effective new model for management training in the sector,’ says Helen Baker, spokesperson for Charityworks.  ‘We thought it was an approach that could be adopted more widely to benefit charities all around the country. But we knew we needed to complete a thorough evaluation of our work, both to capture our learning and to demonstrate to others the value of what we had achieved.’

Helen admits that she and her colleagues were so immersed in the business of developing and delivering the Charityworks programme that it was no easy matter to step back and assess their achievements in a strategic way. That is why they were delighted when Reach introduced them to Andy Bagley, who agreed to work with them to monitor and evaluate the project.

‘It was miraculous to have someone from the outside to come in to help us think critically and ask the right questions’, Helen recalls. ‘Andy is pragmatic and calm and was able to help us focus rapidly on the key measures we needed to put in place. He took us back to basic principles, talked through the metrics and helped develop models of how we could measure key things like inputs, outputs and outcomes.

‘Overall, Andy is helping us think critically about our work in a focussed way. His contribution is proving invaluable.’

Having met with Charityworks to set the basis for the evaluation, Andy has continued to support the process remotely and will be reviewing progress at future meetings.

‘I have tried to help the organisation ask fundamental questions about why they are doing what they are doing and who benefits. They are now evaluating those benefits from a number of different angles by collecting data around agreed measures.’ explains Andy. ‘For example, they are measuring what savings their scheme has made in terms of recruitment costs, assessing what benefits participants have gained from the training and examining wider issues such as the impact the work is having on the reputations of the organisations involved’.

At a time when the government is talking about payment by results in terms of the Big Society, Helen Baker recognises that effective evaluation will play an increasingly crucial role.

‘A more mature and sophisticated accountability is what will be required,’ she says. ‘Charityworks is fortunate in having an expert volunteer like Andy Bagley to help us achieve this. Financing is very tight for us and we just would not have had the capacity to go to the market for the sort of consultancy support he is providing.’

In Andy’s view, many voluntary organisations have some way to go in catching up with the private and public sectors over monitoring and evaluation. He feels that third sector organisations need to implement a major shift in emphasis, away from measuring activity and work output, towards focussing on outcomes – the results of that activity and what it has achieved.

Meanwhile, Andy is appealing for more individuals with professional expertise in evaluation outside the voluntary sector to consider volunteering to work with charities and community organisations. He says there is a lot to be gained from the experience.

‘Working in the voluntary sector is fascinating and offers an opportunity to people like myself to broaden our professional experience’, says Andy. ‘Volunteers are likely to find that their contribution will be warmly recognised and appreciated. But in the longer term, we can make a difference to the people who are served by the charities we help.  And that is perhaps the biggest reward of all.’

Charlotte was Reach’s Marketing Manager until 2011

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Clock
September 15th, 2010 by Guest Contributor

Diana Parkinson, charity consultant at M&E Consulting outlines a ten-step plan for monitoring and evaluation.

‘The Big Society’ is the new coalition government’s programme for the third sector, which it is now referring to as ‘civil society’. It involves supporting the creation and expansion of charities, social enterprises and community groups and facilitating a much bigger role for them in the running of public services. This is likely to be accompanied by a greater emphasis on payment by results and means the voluntary sector will increasingly need to demonstrate that its programmes and initiatives are effective and value for money.

Effective monitoring and evaluation plays a vitally important role in fundraising for charities and community groups. It helps you to identify how your work matches funders’ priorities and therefore equips you to write stronger funding applications. It also enables you to report back to funders about what you have achieved and the difference your work has made.

In addition, monitoring and evaluation helps the growth and development of your organisation. It provides a way of reviewing and developing existing services as well as identifying gaps in your work and helping to plan new services. It helps you to know whether you have achieved what you set out to achieve, and to find out in some detail how your service users have benefited from your work.

So, how should you go about monitoring and evaluating your work? The process involves three main stages, each of which has a number of steps.


Planning

STEP 1:  Plan your monitoring and evaluation

Think about when you will need to carry out your monitoring and evaluation, who needs to be involved and what resources will be needed.  You will need to decide whether to involve external evaluators (see below) or to do this work yourself and whether you need to seek any specific funding to support the work.

STEP 2:  Understand your work

Focus on the needs of your service-users and describe in broad terms the difference that you hope to make for them (your aims) and how you plan to bring this about (your objectives).  Make sure that you can link your aims and objectives as otherwise you will find that you are planning work that will not help to achieve any of your aims, or that you have not planned how you will achieve certain aims.

STEP 3: Identify your outputs and outcomes

Specify the services that you will provide (outputs) and the changes or benefits that you hope to bring about as a result (outcomes). Make sure that the outcomes you identify are ones that you expect to occur as a direct result of your activities and that are relevant to your stakeholders.

STEP 4:  Set indicators

Identify what information you will need to collect to show your progress in delivering your outputs and achieving your outcomes (your indicators). You can do this by:

  • identifying your own indicators
  • drawing on standard indicators, or indicators that other people are using
  • using indicators that are set by your funders

Monitoring

STEP 5:  Plan your data collection

Think about how and when you can collect information and what resources this will need. For example, you could:

  • ask your service-users for information e.g. using questionnaires, interviews or tests
  • record information about your service-users e.g. using case records
  • collect information through observation

You need to select the methods that would be the most appropriate for collecting the information you need.

STEP 6:  Develop tools to collect the information you need

Having worked out how you plan to collect your information, you then need to develop tools to do this (i.e. your forms or interview questions) by using/adapting existing tools or by finding off-the-shelf tools that meet your needs. Make sure you think through when and how your tools will be used and pilot the tools.

STEP 7:   Collect your information

Once you have piloted your tools, you can then use them to collect information. Keep an eye on the information you collect to make sure it is useful and appropriate.


Evaluating

STEP 8:  Analyse the information

Examine and assess the information you have collected to find out what it is showing you.

STEP 9:  Write up your findings

Organise your findings so that you can report on your progress in delivering your objectives and achieving your aims. Try to step back from the detail and look for the overall meaning in the information you have collected and use quotes and comments to bring your findings to life.

STEP 10:  Make good use of your findings

Write up your findings, share them with others and use them to inform future work and to report to stakeholders. Above all else, use your evaluation findings to help review and develop your work.


Most organisations choose to carry out their own monitoring and evaluation (self-evaluation). However, some organisations decide to commission an external evaluation to give them a more in-depth and independent perspective. You may find that sometimes funders will require an external evaluation of your work as a condition of their funding.


Diana Parkinson works for M&E Consulting – a small consultancy which supports charities and community groups to develop their own monitoring and evaluation. For more information, visit:  www.monitoringandevaluation.org.uk

Guest contributors are invited by Reach to give their own take on issues related to skilled volunteering and trusteeship. We hope you enjoy their articles.

Opinions expressed are those of the writer and may not reflect those of Reach.

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Grouped together
September 2nd, 2010 by Sarah King

The launch of the first Trustees’ Week provides an opportunity for organisations to refresh their thinking on trustee recruitment.

It seems that finding new trustees is difficult; at least that’s what people tell me. Personally, I think the traditional approach which is adopted to finding trustees is often, in itself, a barrier to success.’

I have been involved in charity governance and trusteeship for more than a decade. Here is a range of practical tips and advice on how organisations can recruit good trustees and make the best use of them.

“I’ve asked everyone I know and no-one wants to get involved” is a typical comment I hear. But, apparently, each of us has a finite community or circle of contacts that averages about 150 people. Once we’ve asked all of them, or ruled people out for various reasons, it is little wonder that we are often left feeling a bit stuck.


So, here are some ideas for casting the trustee net wider and more effectively:

Look outside your community: not all trustees need to be local or have detailed knowledge of your work. Could you approach a new group of people through a volunteer centre or an organisation like Reach?

Ensure you tell your story: the roles and responsibilities of a trustee are important but what your organisation does, and how a good trustee can make a difference, will appeal to people far more.
Put the story in writing, make a short video or create an eye-catching poster. Then do everything you can to exploit media opportunities to get that story out there.

Every charity with a website can use it to recruit trustees online. If you have a newsletter make use of that, and/or consider holding an open evening to reach a wider audience.

Whether you advertise through posters in libraries or other public places, through a local CVS newsletter or on www.do-it.org.uk make sure to include your website address and make trustee information available on your site in a downloadable format. This increases traffic to the site and gives people the place to go to find out more about you.

Be specific about the skills, background or experience that would be of particular value to your organisation: Recruiting new trustees is not about making up numbers but adding value. Potential trustees should have an opportunity to recognise what contributions they may be able  to make.
Take one of the great stories you’ve written about yourself and email it to local newspapers and radio stations. An extra tip is to put the text in the main body of the email, and not as an attachment. You could attach a good image that helps show off your work.

Consider creating a small recruitment budget: Anything from £ 100 to £ 5,000 can prove to be an invaluable investment if it finds the right, highly committed trustee who may serve for a number of years.

Recruiting great trustees is as much about what you do once they join as it is about persuading them to come in the first place. At a recent workshop I facilitated we concluded that if we only connect with new trustees through a mound of Board papers and at meetings they will probably disengage and leave. Furthermore, if existing trustees aren’t clear on their role or the work of your charity then new trustees may end up in the same position.


So here are some thoughts on getting the best from those great trustees you’ve found:

Introductions: give new trustees the chance to meet other trustees, staff etc informally as well as attending a board meeting as an observer. Give them an introduction to the organisation’s work, plans, budgets, committee structure etc. as well as to the formal role of the trustee. Don’t do this on paper only but in person.

Introductions Round 2: most people forget names so keep (discreetly) introducing people or mentioning names when inviting people to speak at meetings.

Know your trustees: Good Chairs and CEOs know their trustees professionally, and to a degree, personally. Ask trustees how they want to be involved, what they have to offer and what concerns they have.

Know your trustees Round 2: as trustees settle into their role what they can offer may change. They may acquire new skills or experiences in their work or home lives. Meet trustees informally at least once a year, on a one-to-one basis, to find out what is going on for them and what they can and/or want to offer.

Invest time in building the Board as a team: If they only meet once a quarter for a two-hour meeting they won’t develop understanding of each other as people. Away days, or small social gatherings before or after meetings, can help build relationships.


 

For more information and ideas on recruiting trustees, visit the TrusteeWorks resources website:  www.reachskills.org.uk/great-trustees

Sarah is Reach’s former Chief Executive, leading the organisation from 2008 until 2012

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Spark of creativity
January 28th, 2010 by Sarah King

Most readers will share the hope that 2010 will see an end to the recession and an easing of the financial pressures that faced voluntary organisations and individuals alike last year.  But while we may hope for easier times ahead, Sarah King argues that not all of the fallout from the recession was harmful.

Better plans, tighter control over our finances and the need for highly effective trustee boards or management committees. These are just three of the things that I have personally observed the voluntary sector being forced to focus on as a result of the recession.

Reach itself has had to look closely at these things as well as receiving significant requests for skilled support to help other voluntary organisations tackle the challenges of the recession.  It has been a sobering experience but as my trustees said at the final meeting in 2009, we’re actually a better organisation and they are better trustees now.  Not at all what I expected from a tough year of recession.

So why has the recession has been good news as well as bad?  First and foremost I have seen voluntary organisations go back to basics and ask three questions:

  • Who and what are we here for (our objects or goals)
  • What are our priorities (our current plans)
  • What can we afford to do (our finances and the level of risk we will take)

These are questions we should be asking all the time as paid staff, trustees and anyone involved in leading and managing a voluntary organisation.  This is what the organisation is here for and yet, when things are going well, these can become less central to our thinking.  In a time of recession most organisations can only focus on their primary goals and many find they have drifted away from their heartland.  Many of the Reach volunteers we placed in 2009 have facilitated exactly these conversations with organisations and we know just how enlightening these discussions have been.

Undoubtedly, more people with skills and experience have become available as volunteers because of the recession. The unprecedented levels of redundancy hitting senior and professional people, and many others wanting to keep their CV as alive as possible ‘just in case’, has generated a new demand in the world of volunteering.  People want to use their skills to help a voluntary organisation or good cause in order to provide a lifeline for themselves and not just the charity.  Volunteering has offered them the chance to use their skills in a different context and to show they are adaptable. It has rebuilt esteem and confidence and in the process they have seen their contribution make an impact.

The unexpected outcome Reach has seen here is that people who started volunteering because their livelihood was threatened have been converted to the value of skilled volunteering.  I will be watching with interest to see if this response outlasts the recession.  Personally, I think it will.

Another positive product of recession has been that good governance has become an essential.  Many people consider governance as the boring legal stuff with lots of red tape.  To me this misses the fundamental point that governance is about leadership. It is about overseeing change and ultimately about transforming lives, saving our planet, eradicating disease and so forth.  That’s why I am a trustee and I find the potential of being a trustee in that context exciting.  When I talk now about what it takes to be an effective board or management committee, I encourage such bodies to focus relentlessly on three things:

  • Make sure the organisation has clear goals (its strategy if you prefer)
  • Make sure it is delivering against its goals (its business plan)
  • Make sure the organisation is compliant (the legal bit)

The legal bit is not difficult.  Yes, you need someone with a good understanding and attention to detail but it isn’t difficult.  Exercising leadership I have found is far harder for trustees.  We are so used to rolling up our sleeves and doing, relatively few of us know how to show leadership as a group.

So for me, the recession has had its upsides.  I’d happily not go through the summer we had in 2009 again but Reach is certainly a better place for it, both in the services we are providing and in the way we ourselves run.  And the best outcome of all, we believe in ourselves so much more.  We believe in who we are and how we can make a difference and that means we will get better and better and helping the voluntary sector access the skills and support it needs.

Best wishes for a happy and more prosperous year to you all.

Sarah King, Chief Executive, Reach

Sarah is Reach’s former Chief Executive, leading the organisation from 2008 until 2012

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Laptop
January 15th, 2010 by Guest Contributor

The Charity Commission is warning that weaknesses in governance are frequently the root cause of many things that can go wrong in charities. Responding to the launch of TrusteeWorks, Neal Green, Senior Policy Adviser at the Commission, says the Commission shares Reach’s desire to see charities benefiting from having skilled and experienced trustees. And, in an article specially written for Reach, he points out that being a trustee has its benefits.

Regulator will signpost TrusteeWorks

The Charity Commission is keen to work with a range of partners to encourage volunteering, particularly volunteering as charity trustees. Once our new and improved website is launched, it will signpost TrusteeWorks and similar resources to help those interested in trusteeship and charities in need of trustees, to find each other. And, to help would-be trustees, I’m particularly encouraged that TrusteeWorks signposts so much of the Commission’s guidance for charities, alongside other useful documents.

Some might expect the charity regulator to take little interest in the make-up of trustee boards. Surely our role is limited to ensuring boards are spending charity money in accordance with the charity’s objects and not pocketing any themselves?  But experience has taught us that, in order to be an effective and proportionate regulator, prevention is always far better than cure.  Getting the right skills and experience onto a board in the first place is crucial.

More recently, we’ve been told that the Commission is only interested in fraudulent fundraisers or ‘bent’ accountants.  Yet looking back at the lessons learned from our Compliance work, Charities Back on Track, of over 180 cases in 2008-9, only 24 involved concerns about charity fundraisers and none involved ‘bent’ accountants (which would, in any case, be something for the police or accountancy bodies to investigate, not us).  We are more concerned about poor governance, internal financial mismanagement, failure to protect vulnerable beneficiaries, and crossing the line when it comes to supporting political campaigning.  And of course, although it’s often the most high profile, our compliance role is only one aspect of our work.

Time after time, weaknesses in governance are the root cause of so many things that can go wrong in some charities. Difficulties such as disputes that paralyse charities, loss of focus leading to mission drift, or poor controls and procedures that lead to financial mismanagement or create opportunities for fraud or theft.  A few charities somehow limp along despite having such problems, but they are unable to fulfil their potential and use their resources as effectively as they could.  This is why good governance is such a focus within our guidance, from The Essential Trustee to Hallmarks of an Effective Charity and The Big Board Talk (15 questions trustees need to ask).  Getting governance right both helps to prevent the kinds of problems I’ve mentioned, and underpins compliance with the letter of the law.

So where does good governance start?  I am more and more convinced that it is with trustees properly understanding their role. You really need to understand the purpose of your organisation; your powers, duties and responsibilities. Also, your role in terms of overseeing the work of the organisation, managing and supporting staff and volunteers, and championing the organisation’s vision and values. Such understanding will mean that you have the information and the motivation you need to ensure that the charity works effectively.  This is the first principle in the ‘refreshed’ code of governance for the voluntary and community sector, which the Commission fully supports.

We know that most trustees do a good job and want to do a better one.  As regulator, we have to maintain the balance of focusing on all the responsibilities (for the few who need to be reminded) without taking too much focus away from all the benefits of trusteeship.  Not only do trustees benefit society by the work they do, but they can also benefit by developing new skills, insights and friendships through carrying out their role.  Some even find it fun.

Neal Green
Senior Policy Adviser
The Charity Commission
www.charitycommission.gov.uk

Guest contributors are invited by Reach to give their own take on issues related to skilled volunteering and trusteeship. We hope you enjoy their articles.

Opinions expressed are those of the writer and may not reflect those of Reach.

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"Don't just stand there"
January 9th, 2010 by Charlotte Zamboni

TrusteeWorks aims to close recruitment gap and improve governance

With close to half of the UK’s charities reporting that they have vacancies on their governing boards, a major new initiative to boost trustee recruitment has been launched by Reach. Called TrusteeWorks, the new service is setting out to raise awareness amongst thousands of existing and potential skilled volunteers of the rewards and challenges involved in being a trustee. And organisations of all sizes are being offered specialist help and assistance to bring fresh talent onto their boards.


 

Services for Independent Living in Hereford

The launch by Reach of TrusteeWorks comes in the wake of a hard-hitting review of charity trusteeship in the UK. Produced by New Philanthropy Capital, ‘Board Matters’ claimed that charitable trusteeship “is not up to scratch” and identified a shortage of new trustees as one of the major reasons.

“Recruitment of new trustees is getting harder, and nearly half of charities have vacancies on their board” says the report. It goes on to point out that “less than five per cent of people are aware that they can support a charity by becoming a trustee.”

The report says action on recruitment is important to address the shortage of trustees, and also to improve diversity, a lack of which can undermine a charity’s mission. The report warns that “a homogeneous board will miss out on the benefits that come from having people with different backgrounds and experiences working together as a team.”

Janet Thorne, one of the mangers who is co-ordinating the new TrusteesWork service, says Reach is only too aware of the importance of trustee recruitment.

“It’s because we are so committed to help improve governance in the voluntary sector that we decided to create a new focus for our expertise in skilled volunteering” she says.  “We knew from conversations with many of the organisations we work with that finding the right people, and persuading them to become trustees, is often a major headache. At the same time, we knew that many of our thousands of skilled volunteers were simply not aware of the need for trustees or the rewards that the role can offer. We think TrusteeWorks provides a really effective response to both sides of the issue.”


 

Equipped with its own new dedicated website, TrusteeWorks sets out to be a unique ‘one stop shop’ for organisations of all sizes, from small community groups to large national charities. It provides resources and advice to help them identify prospective trustees with the right skills and experience for the role. The actively managed recruitment services on offer are tiered, to provide different levels of support. All offer access to Reach’s extensive register of skilled volunteers but vary in cost according to how much of the recruitment workload is taken on by TrusteeWorks and how widely a client organisation wishes to cast its recruitment net.

For volunteers, TrusteeWorks offers a personalised service to identify trustee opportunities that would make good use of their particular skills, provide satisfying rewards and challenges and fit it around work, home and other commitments. Help is also available to clarify the role, duties and responsibilities involved in being a trustee.

“Reach is investing substantial resources and a great deal of effort into the recruitment of new trustees” says Janet Thorne. “We will be actively marketing trustee roles to our register of volunteers, many of whom just don’t realise how interesting, fulfilling and even exciting the job can be and what a difference it can make to the work of a charity.

“The sophisticated recruitment technology we are currently adopting, with its improved registration procedure and matching capabilities, will make us more effective in identifying potential candidates,” adds Janet. “Beyond that, TrusteeWorks will exploit wider opportunities to promote trusteeship in general, and advertise specific vacancies through online and other media.”

New additional services are already being devised for TrusteeWorks to help organisations with their ongoing board development such as skills audits and board reviews.

More information about TrusteeWorks, including case studies of successful trustee recruits, is available by visiting: www.reachskills.org.uk/trusteeworks

Charlotte was Reach’s Marketing Manager until 2011

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