The stories from this year’s Charity Governance Awards winners and entrants are a vivid illustration of the difference a good board can make. They tell of boards that have brought fresh thinking, integrity and a clear vision to their charity’s work, strengthened its impact and, sometimes, averted disaster. The charities themselves range from tiny to large, and their causes are diverse. The governance categories they entered include digital, diversity, impact and turnaround.
They are all stories of great leadership, exercised as a team, for a common cause.
This is quite at odds with the way that we, as a sector, usually talk about trusteeship. Often the focus is on the fiduciary and the language is all compliance, liability, duty. For a long time, I was deeply uninterested in anything to do with trusteeship: it had a fusty, almost Dickensian connotation, and the link between trustees and the work of the charity – the difference it made – seemed tenuous.
However, as the entrants for this year’s awards (and last year’s too) clearly demonstrate, good governance involves so much more than just getting the basics of compliance and scrutiny right.
A common theme of these stories is of trustees keeping hold of the bigger picture and not being afraid to think afresh about how their focus should shift in the context of a changing world. In some cases this meant deciding to narrow their remit to key strategic activity, and stopping anything that did not contribute to this. (This can be so hard to do in practice!) Dementia UK decided to focus on exclusively providing care through specialist Admiral Nurses. For others this meant broadening their mission to create a more holistic approach. For example, Off The Record expanded its work from providing counselling services for young people to a mental health service for the same audience. Body & Soul widened the focus of its services from young people with HIV to a broader range of beneficiaries. Always, the board were careful to keep true to the overall purpose of the charity, and to the needs of service users.
Another strand (and a refreshing change from the stereotype of risk averse boards) is the willingness of the trustees to be ready to try new things where this helps them achieve their goals. Voluntary Arts’ BAME Advisory Panel incorporated shared meals into their meetings to help build inclusivity, Raise the Roof has embedded the use of several off-the-shelf platforms to deliver services and increase participation at board level. There are stories of boards taking bold decisions, based on calculated risk to achieve more – for example, Preston Road Women’s Centre took advantage of the Empty Homes Partnership to develop a new programme providing safe accommodation for women escaping domestic abuse.
The entrants share an evident belief in the value of collective, and collaborative, action; a willingness to look outwards and work in partnership with other organisations. There is also a real seriousness: clarity about the change that the board wants to achieve and determination to draw on the right information and processes to achieve this. These are boards who are interested in the impact of their organisation’s work, who seek evidence of the difference their service makes and take corrective action where necessary. They are also boards who are willing to step up to the plate when the going gets tough. Witness the courage and commitment shown by the trustees of Kentish Town City Farm when faced with a seemingly hopeless situation.
These stories are important for three reasons. They show how there is more to being a trustee than scrutinising accounts. They also offer a counterpoint to the bad press that governance has had in the last couple of years – the plethora of stories about people doing it wrong and a focus on the ‘problems of governance’. This negative focus is problematic, and not only because it creates an unbalanced picture of trusteeship. It actually contributes to the problem: underlying much of the existing bad governance. From poor trustee recruitment to lack of board engagement, there is a lack of appreciation of, or even belief in, the difference that a good board can make to a charity. Sharing examples of good governance is one of the most powerful ways to help people to understand the value of good trusteeship. It makes it tangible. These stories demonstrate that good governance really does matter, that it really is possible, and that it is worth striving to achieve. So, please read and enjoy these stories, and share them widely.
The Charity Governance Awards is organised by the Clothworkers’ Company, in partnership with Reach Volunteering, NPC and Prospectus.
The winners were announced at a ceremony at the Clothworkers Hall in London on Wednesday 24 May 2017.
This case study was authored by In-Deep for the building boards for a digital age campaign.
In-Deep Community Task Force is a small charity founded in 2002 that works to support communities and tackle Isolation in Westminster, Lambeth and Battersea. Our turnover is in the region of £40,000 per year, funded through a combination of grants and fundraising activities. We are completely volunteer run. Our board currently has five active members, including our Chair and Founder, Charity Secretary, Treasurer and one service user.
One of our trustees works for Microsoft. Microsoft’s London base was formerly around the corner from our main site in Westminster. They were keen to encourage their staff to volunteer and as a local charity we were connected with them through our volunteer centre, One Westminster. As a result we have had a number of volunteers from Microsoft join us over the years. One of these volunteers was Kate. She had been a long-term volunteer before agreeing to join the board of trustees in 2015.
As an organisation we knew that our website was not meeting our needs.
It was difficult to maintain and we had to rely on a former volunteer to update content, which was a very slow process as the volunteer in question was often hard to reach and had little time available. This meant that we couldn’t keep the site up to date, which was a problem as we are often introducing new services and running one off events. It also didn’t send the right impression to potential funders and partners to have a website that was out of date.
Kate quickly carried out a review of our site. As well as picking up on the problems we were aware of, she also identified a major risk that we hadn’t identified.
Apparently search engines are moving to a stage where they will automatically read the content of a site and what they find determines where the site appears in search results. The technology behind our site was apparently so dated, that search engines would shortly not be able to read it at all, and it would stop coming up on searches all together.
Kate put together a proposal for the development of a whole new site. This would be based on open source software so wouldn’t cost the earth. It would also be very simple to use so that our regular volunteers would easily be able to update the content. With the board’s support Kate put together a call for developers, which she uploaded onto an online marketplace for web developers. As a result we received responses from developers all over the world. Kate ran a selection exercise with the board and we are currently working with a developer in India to put together a brand new site for just £500. Kate is also going to train a group of volunteers to manage the site.
The new site will be easier to navigate and ensure that we can keep our service users and their families up to date on our new and existing activity. It will also help us to reach new service users. Finally we will be able to present a more professional image to funders, potential donors and partners.
My advice to other charities would be that a board member with digital knowledge and skills is invaluable.
This has been a big piece of work, so having a board member in charge has made the process simpler and easier. As a first step talk to a volunteer broker, like Reach Volunteering or your local volunteer centre. They may have connections with IT companies that can help with volunteers. I know that many IT professionals are keen to use their skills to help charities and community groups.
Entries are now open to charities both large and small, from all sectors, for the Charity Governance Awards 2017 – the UK awards that recognise and reward good charity governance.
Reach Volunteering is delighted to be a partner in these awards that by shining a spotlight on the best of the sector, demonstrate how effective governance can transform a charity and the lives of its beneficiaries.
Entry to the awards is free. Each of the seven categories offers a £5,000 cash prize.
Looking for inspiration for your entry? Want to know what makes an award winner special? Browse the profile pages and short films for the winners, and the shortlisted charities.
You can enter online for free until 13 January 2017. The winners will be announced at the invite-only free awards ceremony drinks reception on 24 May 2017. Follow the conversation at #charitygov17
The Charity Governance Awards are organised by The Clothworkers’ Company – a City Livery company that supports trusteeship initiatives – in partnership with NPC (New Philanthropy Capital), Prospectus and Reach.
Having had great success in our work with students’ unions over the last few years, the TrusteeWorks team is excited to be moving forward with NUS in a more formal capacity as preferred supplier.
We are confident that this relationship will give us the opportunity to help many more students’ unions source fantastic external trustees.
The recruitment of trustees is something that all charities do differently. However, there are a number of mistakes which, as a recruitment expert in the field, I see cropping up again and again.
Trustees’ Week is a great time to examine them.
1) Sparse or weakly constructed role description
This is probably the most common problem with a recruitment process. The most qualified professionals seeking trustee roles can be as discerning as they like: they look for role descriptions that stand out from the crowd and many will only apply to those roles that are carefully crafted: grammar, clarity, purpose, incentive, interest and scope are all aspects of your role which will be judged.
Many organisations now create attractive information packs to ensure that their role catches the eye of prospective trustees and this is a very effective tactic. Remember, the quality of your role description reflects the quality of the organisations work.
2) Unwillingness to spend money on the recruitment process
It is a common misconception that volunteers work for free.
Of course, volunteers are not paid but that doesn’t mean that they don’t consume resources: expenses, training, management time all contribute to a cost. A lot of charities believe that, because a trustee is unpaid, their recruitment should also incur no cost, despite the fact that it takes time to draft a role description (and even more to create an info pack). Equally, dealing with applications, shortlisting, interview and induction all take a toll of resources.
As such, organisations should not see investing in good trustees as wasted resources but rather, a solid investment which will pay dividends if done right.
3) Thinking outside the box
Charities who struggle to find the ideal candidate are often looking at their applicants without creativity. For example, a charity seeking a fundraising trustee may overlook candidates who have an extensive back ground in marketing, yet, in many instances, fundraising is a form of targeted marketing.
In short, flexibility and a view to recruiting people with transferable skills and determination may often prove as effective (and sometimes even more so) than a candidate who ticks all the boxes but has limited time or passion for the role.
Posted in Blog Entries Tagged with: Charity boards, Charity Governance, Charity Trustee, Good practice in governance, Good practice in volunteering, Skilled volunteering, Trustee Recruitment, Trustees' Week
Reach’s Trusteeworks Matching Service will be free from 1 November 2013 for charities with an annual turnover of under £1 million. Reach believes that removing the entry level charge of £75 for smaller charities, who have limited funds for recruiting, will make a big difference by helping them to strengthen their boards.
Strong boards, with a sufficient breadth of experience and skills, are crucial for charities facing difficult decisions in an uncertain economic climate. The ability to recruit outside a charity’s immediate networks by using a service like Reach is an important factor in this process.
The Trusteeworks Matching Service provides a free, high-quality introduction to skilled volunteers. The trustee role appears on Reach’s register of available trustee opportunities, and Reach’s recruitment teams search their extensive register of available volunteers, sound out candidates and forward suitable names to the charity.
In addition to the Matching Service, Reach offers the Trusteeworks Matching Plus Service and the Trusteeworks Premium Service which provide additional features such as preparing advertising copy for the role and in-depth screening and briefing of candidates.
Reach is the biggest recruiter of trustees in the UK having placed nearly 750 with charities all over the country since the launch of Trusteeworks in October 2009, including 185 in 2012 and 142 so far this year. Overall, Reach placed 500 volunteers in 2012 representing an estimated value of £9 million worth of skills transferred into the charity sector, and registered over 1,000 new volunteers and more than 1,100 placement opportunities with charities.
Posted in News Tagged with: Charity boards, Charity Governance, Charity Trustee, Corporate volunteering, Good practice in governance, Good practice in volunteering, Governance, Measuring impact, Reach in the news, Reach volunteering, Recession, Skilled volunteering, Trustee, Trustee Recruitment, Trustees' Week, TrusteeWorks, Volunteer expertise
It’s Volunteers’ Week in the UK and, in the spirit of our previous post about the best way to keep volunteers happy, we at Reach have been asking the volunteer staff across our own organisation exactly how it feels to be thanked for their efforts- from the kinds of “thank you” they find the most truly moving, to the kinds they sort of don’t…
“The main thing about a thank you is that it must be sincere, genuine,” said Anoop, Reach’s resident social media expert. “There is no value in being thanked in a routine and mechanical manner, a letter that is computer generated or a bulk email that has gone out to ten thousand other people… In some cases saying the actual words, ‘thank you’ isn’t necessary if the attitude and reaction to a person’s contribution are polite and respectful.” He added: “I would rather someone always treated me as a valued equal without saying thanks, than if someone continually acted discourteously and thought a few words once a year demonstrated gratitude.”
Bilwa, a volunteer in Reach’s HR department, pointed to a particular gift given to her by a charity she volunteered with- a diary- in appreciation for her efforts. “I really feel good,” she said, of being thanked. “It makes me feel belonged, a part of… [they] don’t just look at you as a person available for free, they do look at you as, you know, a person.” Little things like giving away a tangible gift can be extremely effective when it’s a gift specifically picked out to fit the volunteer’s personality- something that can make them feel acknowledged on an individual level.
Brian Mills has been volunteering at Reach since 1996- so something about it certainly appeals to him! But Brian was quick to note that, while it is always nice to be thanked, “there’s a distinction between routine thanks and regular thanks.” Brian added that, while it was always “nice to have,” thanks, there was a palpable difference between genuine praise meant to prop a volunteer’s spirits, and more “ritual,” thanks, usually produced off the cuff by a boss “breez[ing] into the office.”
Brian suggested that the most genuine, effective thanks were the most obviously distinguishable from more token gestures- thanks bestowed “for a particular thing… [so]you know they’re grateful that you did it.” The more precise the thank you, the more resonant its results- because it lets the volunteer know they’re being appreciated for something they’ve done with their specific skillset, as opposed to just being thanked for turning up.
As we may have previously mentioned, every volunteer is different, and that individuality is an important asset to their service. So, wherever possible, it’s important to remind volunteers that they’re appreciated above all as individuals. In that spirit, as Volunteer Appreciation Week draws to a close, we’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the vital contributors who make up Reach’s staff- one at a time. Here is a list of all the volunteers who make our offices go round, with a very special thanks for each and every one (just mouse over the names to see).
And to all the other skilled volunteers who’ve come through Reach – and, really, everyone else in the world who has ever given their time up for charitable good, please forgive us for being a little generalist just this once- we don’t know all your names. But be assured, as Volunteers’ Week draws to a close, we really do sincerely mean it when we say…
The recent Grant Thornton report on good governance emphasised the need to recruit and maintain a diverse and effective Board of Trustees with a broad range of trustee skills, knowledge and experience.
This will help charities to be fair and open in the way they deliver services and to be more accountable for their actions all serving to increase confidence in their work.
The report based on a study of the Annual Reports of the UK’s top 100 charities highlighted many good examples of diversity – not least the 31% representation of women on their Boards compared to 22% on the Boards of the UK’s top 100 companies.
It also highlighted the important connection between having polices for good governance and being accountability though providing full information about these in Annual Reports. Being seen to adhere to good governance principles and practice can be as important as good governance itself. There is a symbiotic relationship with the discipline of having to describe in the Annual Report the system for good governance compelling charities to concentrate on how they can bring about and maintain good governance in the first place.
The report sets out a number of recommendations for good governance and good operational practice in areas such as Board succession planning and sets out ideas for what should be covered Annual Reports such as:
All charity trustees would learn something of benefit about how to make their charity even more effective by reading this well-researched and presented report.
Especially for Trustees’ Week we’ve invited Alex to write a guest blog. He’s used the opportunity to share his take on the skills that are useful for being a Trustee.
In no particular order, here are my current top ten skills you need as a Trustee. I am learning about new attributes Trustees need all the time, so this isn’t a fixed list! I would love to hear your opinions, what do you think?
Passion into action
It is of fundamental important that you care about the aims of the charity that you are a Trustee for- but now you are on the Board, what are you going to do about it? What practical steps can you and the rest of the Board take to help the charity?
It is crucial that all Trustees have the ability to understand a budget and to review audited accounts. You don’t have to love figures, just to be able to work your way around them. Of course, if finance is your thing then you will be particularly in demand on Boards.
Adding something to a board
A skill; a perspective; a willingness to tackle a particular part of organisational development for the charity….this is a long list.
However experienced you are on Boards, when you join you have a new organisation to learn about with specific strengths and challenges. You need to try to hit the ground running. You also need to understand how the Board works. What angles are people coming from? What are their personalities like? How do you fit in? What skills do you lack that you might want to ask for some support with?
A Charity and its operations is made up of a lot of parts- beneficiaries, staff, Board members, other volunteers, funders, local press etc. While there will not be agreement all the time, you need to understand the priorities of others and to try to bring as many people together as possible towards a common vision.
This takes two main forms. The first is with other Board members. They don’t have to be your best friends but it is good if you have a decent working relationship where you can be honest with each other. Go for a coffee (or pint) together if you can. Support them with the things they are less confident about and don’t be scared to ask for their help in return. The second form of support is about being supportive of the staff of the charity, if the charity is lucky enough to have staff. They may be under a lot of pressure in all sorts of ways. If you can praise them when they deserve it, support them when they need it, and know when you should get involved and when you shouldn’t: then ultimately the aims and ambitions of the charity are more likely to be fulfilled.
When you first join a Board, you may see very clearly where your skills are needed. But over time, the organisation will change, your fellow Trustees will change, and you will change. Be prepared to help out in ways that you hadn’t envisaged: your Trustee experience will be all the richer for it.
In the midst of budgets, strategy, staffing issues and funding crises, you need to remember why the charity is ultimately there. Beneficiaries, beneficiaries, beneficiaries. If your efforts are supporting the intended beneficiaries of the charity at present, and if your actions are going some way to help that support to continue into the future, then you are doing a good job.
One of the blessings of being a Trustee is having the time to help the charity decide the strategic direction it is going to take. Staff may be tied up in fighting fires and in providing much-needed day to day services. A Board, especially a balanced Board, should have the opportunity and skills to think about strategy. How is the charity doing? Could it do other things? Should it stop doing some things?
Last, but definitely not least, especially in the current financial climate. This might be anything from providing funding contacts and advice to helping run a cake sale. Again if you already have fundraising skills, you may be able to greatly help a charity from the moment you join.
Posted in Blog Entries Tagged with: Good practice in governance, Skilled volunteering, Third Sector, Third sector leaders, Trustee, Trustee Recruitment, Trustees' Week, TrusteeWorks, Volunteer expertise
This Trustees’ Week we learn that over five million young people would consider becoming a charity trustee.
That research is no surprise to Luke, our TrusteeWorks Manager and Young Charity Trustees Ambassador. “Young people bring fresh perspective, new ideas and professional skills to the board”, he says.
Luke will be taking part in the Guardian’s live debate on the changing role of trustees and charity boards on Tuesday 6 November. Join in to become part of the conversation.
Meanwhile, over on YouTube, Alex talks about being young and on the board.
Posted in Blog Entries Tagged with: Charity boards, Good practice in governance, Governance, Improving performance, Third Sector, Trustee, Trustee Recruitment, Trustees' Week, TrusteeWorks, Volunteer expertise