Effective trustees need effective support

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​Alastair Keatinge says trustees need training to perform their roles effectively

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7th November 2019 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

There are just over one million charity trustees in the UK, around 180,000 of them in Scotland.

Their work is rightly praised, but many feel under fire – criticised for not being diverse enough, young enough or savvy enough about the latest risks facing their charities.

A thriving third sector is dependent on a thriving trustee base, so it’s imperative that charities do their best to help here. Trustees need training to perform their roles effectively.

The need to support trustees is especially relevant for charities trying to diversify their boards. There are clear attractions to recruiting younger trustees to a board – not least their ability to engage with different supporters, bring fresh ideas and harness the power of digital - but they’ll still need to get up to speed with their legal and governance responsibilities.

Alastair Keatinge

Alastair Keatinge

Without understanding these issues, charities and their trustees may face reputational and financial risks

As the Scottish charities regulator OSCR has said: “Where people raise concerns with us about charities, it’s usually caused by a lack of awareness and support or a failure in decision-making, rather than intentional misconduct.”

Even among the more traditional trustee base, there’s much to learn. “Many of our trustees and directors have significant private-sector expertise but there are important variations in priorities and nuance when it comes to governance of charities,” says Marjory Rodger, a trustee of Social Bite.

So, what to do?

As a starting point, OSCR has excellent guidance for trustees on its website. SCVO’s guidance for trustees is also very useful – especially its information for new trustees (which could also be required reading for existing trustees).

However, the OSCR and SCVO information is general, and chairs and trustees usually also want guidance tailored to their own charity. Typical governance issues on their agenda include: 

* What good governance means in practice,

* trustees’ financial responsibility and personal liability,

* risk management and reporting,

* handling disputes and whistle-blowing,

* and how to embed effective decision-making processes and diversity on the board.

Without understanding these issues, charities and their trustees may face reputational and financial risks; equally, if charities don’t help their trustees get to grips with them, they may struggle to recruit an effective board.

Trustee training does not have to be a huge time commitment for the charity or its trustees. Training can take as little as a day or half day, even as part of a board strategy day.

Given the importance of trustees’ role and the power of good governance, that’s time well spent.

Alastair Keatinge is partner and head of charities and social enterprises at Lindsays.