Will Kids Company saga put off new trustees?
Alastair Keatinge says we must not let media and politicians’ criticism of trustees deter others from supporting charities.
No one emerges from the Kids Company collapse with their reputation enhanced.
But of all the different parties criticised by the House of Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee report into the failure, it is the charity’s trustees who fare worse, criticised for their ‘wishful thinking and false optimism’.
The collapse of Kids Company will become even sorrier if the postmortem deters people from acting as trustees. Until now, charity trustees have generally been viewed with approval, and rightly so. Over 180,000 trustees in Scotland provide their expertise and energy to a huge range of good causes, and society benefits hugely from this.
The collapse of Kids Company will become even sorrier if the postmortem deters people from acting as trustees
Therefore, the negative press coverage of charity trustees in recent weeks – in the context of not only Kids Company but also fundraising strategies – has been a shock to many. Most of the criticism relates to charities registered in England and Wales, rather than Scotland. Yet, Scottish charities have no room for complacency since the spotlight is firmly angled on charity governance and slip-ups.
With practices and expectations constantly evolving, governance is a critical issue for charity professionals, trustees and advisers.
One much discussed area is what governance entails. Trustees are often hazy about this, but its broad scope certainly includes financial responsibilities, relationships with staff and volunteers; board composition, including optimum numbers of trustees and the required balance of skills and experience; board evaluation and setting KPIs; embedding good collective decision-making processes; and fund-raising strategies and practices.
What’s clear from this list is that charity trustees must go beyond the purely legal considerations of their role to look at all issues relating to the governance, reputation and sustainability of their charity.
There will undoubtedly be good outcomes from turning the spotlight on the governance of charities and the responsibilities of trustees – including greater transparency and better management. But this will happen only if regulators, charity lawyers and other charity advisers help trustees to understand good governance and their role in delivering it. And only if there are members of the public still willing to take on the trustee’s role.
Alastair Keatinge is partner and head of charity law at Lindsays. He is hosting this year’s WS Charities Conference where the keynote speaker will be governance specialist Dorothy Dalton.