Senior female doctor gestures as she talks with doctors and administrators in hospital board meeting. The diverse group are discussing hospital policy.

In the final blog in my series on the key areas of trustees’ responsibilities, I continue the theme of examining important financial management and governance matters of which trustees (and CEOs and FDs) should be aware, focussing this time on the Board of Trustees:

1. Board of Trustees:  structure and skills

The Board of Trustees has various roles – including setting the charity’s mission and values, developing strategy, ensuring compliance and accountability, oversight of the charity’s resources, and not least promoting the organisation.

Each organisation is different, with different needs and requirements. As a result the structure of the board of each organisation will be, and should be, different. Some may have sub-committees; some may not consider these to be appropriate. A board should be structured in the best way for the charity, so consider:

• How many trustees should there be? – not too many so decision making is difficult, but not too few that the board may lack all necessary skills
• Do trustees have appropriate skills and backgrounds? – make sure you have people with the required skills, whether that be legal, financial, communications, business, sector-specific etc. But don’t forget that whilst boards should be comprised of individuals that bring these skills to the table, they should also bring passion and a genuine interest in wanting to help the charity and its beneficiaries.
• Are sub-committees essential? Don’t have these for the sake of it – they can aid decision-making and management by enabling the best people to focus on specific matters, but too many and there could be the risk of becoming too process driven and losing sight of the core objectives.

2. Strategy

Does your charity have a strategy in place? Strategies are a way of ensuring there is a clear focus and vision for the organisation, both short-term and long-term. Strategies can also help to obtain ‘buy in’ from everyone in the organisation, which can only be a good thing in helping drive the charity forward.

Strategies should not be viewed as something set in stone that cannot be changed. A good strategy will allow flexibility and the opportunity to adapt to changing circumstances.

In developing a strategy, think about who the beneficiaries are, what you are hoping to achieve by doing these activities, and how the strategy can best be carried out – by whom and with what resources.

Thinking about these things will allow you to develop a strategy that sets out both the ‘big picture’ (the charity’s overall vision and values) and the ‘day-to-day’ (the operational specifics that will be carried out to meet the objectives).

3. Risk management

Trustees are ultimately responsible for a charity being compliant with laws, regulations, its governing document, and for safeguarding a charity’s assets. So naturally caution and prudence will raise their heads.

Make sure that there is a proper risk management process in place: link it to your strategy; use it as part of the planning and decision making process; assess outcomes and learn from them in future risk management processes.

Most importantly, make sure there is a purpose to the process – for example, don’t just keep a risk register because it is seen to be the right thing to do. If it is viewed as a box ticking exercise, then it may be time to consider a new approach to risk management and how this can work for your organisation and be of benefit.

However, don’t be afraid to be bold and take a risk. As the old adage goes, for every problem there is an opportunity. There may be bumps along the way but the rewards can definitely be worth it.

As with the topics discussed in my other blogs in this series, all areas should be considered and planned in accordance with the specific circumstances of your charity – one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.

Please do email Martin with any queries you have about your own charity.

This is part of a series of blogs on charity management. If you’d like to know when future instalments go live, please sign up for updates.

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Martin Bailey - Partner


T +44 (0)20 7874 8877

I have particular expertise in the charity and the social business sector, working with organisations in 'The Third Sector' since joining the profession and developing vast knowledge and extensive experience in this time.

Charities are unique and have specialised reporting, compliance, and governance requirements. They require someone with specialist skills and knowledge to support them, allowing them to focus on their important work.

I work with organisations rather than for them, providing support and advice to issues as they arise - whether that be core accounts and audit compliance, VAT and taxation planning, governance issues, risk management, strategic reviews and advice, or designing accounting systems.

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