Getting governance right


Gavin McEwan asks charities to reflect on how they are governed 

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14th February 2020 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

At The Gathering this year, as you meet colleagues and contacts from across the third sector and see what other charities are achieving, I would encourage you to take some time to reflect on the following questions:

How well governed is your charity?; When did you last consider whether your governance structure was fit for purpose?; Do you know what would happen if things went badly wrong?; How are you protecting your charity, trustees and reputation from risk?

None of these questions is intended to scare charities – but equally they are questions that charities must not overlook. Immersing yourself in your charity’s objectives and ensuring the best possible output for your beneficiaries is crucial, but that focus should never be at the expense of a regular review of your wider governance procedures.

Good governance has been a recurring theme for the charity sector since the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act was passed in 2005. Case studies and inquiry reports have shown repeatedly that governance failings can have a serious effect on a charity – and in some cases it can be so serious that the charity reaches a major crunch point or even has to be wound up.

No-one wants to gloat over failings in the third sector, but seeing and understanding what has gone wrong in our own and other charities can be a useful learning point. This is exactly what we will be exploring in our event at The Gathering this year: highlighting some of the latest developments in relation to charity governance, discussing key themes on managing risk, and sharing with you our views on the key lessons to be learned from recent regulatory examples.

Gavin McEwan

Gavin McEwan

You ought not to be surprised that some of the lessons to be learned have been fairly constant since 2005, and the same lessons have been shared by regulators and others over an extended period. But ultimately charities are run by human beings and, fallible as we are, we do sometimes need to be reminded of the things that can go wrong. A constant refreshing of the third sector’s awareness of risk and governance issues is therefore a critical task for us all to embrace. That’s why we at Turcan Connell are always keen to promote engagement with the principles of good governance across all of our charity clients.

It is also important to remember that good governance is not solely the remit of charity trustees: chief executives and senior staff are also key players. And sometimes the burden of instilling good governance within a charity falls entirely on the shoulders of volunteers.

We hope that our event will give food for thought to charities of all shapes and sizes. But if you can’t join us, go back to those questions I posed at the start of this article and ponder them as you go about during these two days. We wish you an enjoyable Gathering 2020.

Gavin McEwan is a partner and head of charities at Turcan Connell. Turcan Connell is hosting the event Charity Law Update – A Practical View, which takes place in the Alsh Suite on Thursday 20 February at 11.15am.