The best people to run a charity are its Trustees
Sometimes Trustees, over the passage of time, have come to focus on a no-longer-relevant metric or structure. Often all that is required is an independent view of what the key questions and drivers are and whether something important being overlooked.
Surprisingly often Trustees are engaged in the detail of a course of action which completely misses a substantial and strategic risk – often to do with financing the work and an assumption of an endlessly benign future.
Trustees should be engaged in the decisions facing their charities, not just entertained by them
Charities are hugely fortunate in who they attract as Trustees, and many devote considerable energy to them. Sometimes Trustees are reluctant to drive a charity forward as they would if it were their own business. This manifests itself in ‘reckless caution’ where a CEO cannot make progress because of the caution of the Board.
An independent firm can help the CEO unlock that impasse, be it to resolve an old issue or to promote an innovative and imaginative proposal.
Trustees must be first loyal to the interests of their beneficiaries
Many charities have enjoyed huge growth in their assets but struggle to translate this growth into a higher spend on their charitable objects. Trustees can become confused between the interests of their beneficiaries and the volunteers used to deliver the service, or indeed just a declining beneficiary pool.
Trustees often see growing reserves as a sign of success and not failure - but what makes them charitable is not what they save, rather what they spend.
Trustees need proper support when asked to take on unfamiliar risks
Trustees who are reluctant to take risk can limit their charity’s opportunities.
Being a Trustee is like being a parent – parents are quite used to weighing up and then taking risks where they will never benefit personally from the outcome, but they know that their children will. Like parents, Trustees are required to be risk takers. The parent who avoids all risk creates a larger risk with their child’s future. Independent advice can help Trustees navigate effectively these unfamiliar risks, just as a parent does by discussing risks with other parents.
All Trustees should be involved in strategic financial decisions
Trustees have a critical function in holding their executives and any professional advisers to account.
Trustees should be concerned at presentations to the Board that seek not to engage but to entertain, or worse still, distract or deceive. This can be difficult because often these will be technical discussions led by technicians. Trustees can too often be bamboozled into focussing on the wrong question or distracted from asking the correct question. Only Trustees are responsible for a charity’s well-being and have every right to ask for someone to sit on their side of the table and offer skilled, independent support or advice in evaluating technical questions.
The Charity Commission does not regard it as sufficient for Trustees to say “I don’t do numbers”.
All professional advice should put the interests of the charity first
Why does the Financial Conduct Authority require firms to act in the interests of their clients first? Whose interests might they otherwise act in? Trustees deserve advice that will genuinely try to
help them do the best job possible for their beneficiaries.