Case study: Using trustees' time more effectively

Training and employment charity Nova summarises finance issues, so its board can concentrate on more constructive topics

Nova staff member helping client with vocational training. Picture by Philip Wolmuth
Nova staff member helping client with vocational training. Picture by Philip Wolmuth

Nova New Opportunities, which provides vocational training to disadvantaged people in London, registered as a charity last April. But trustees' meetings were dominated by finance issues.

"The chair would focus his questions on the financials, and I would give him the answers," says treasurer Michael Walker-Smith. "It was very sterile and most trustees switched off."

THE CHALLENGE

Nova decided the balance of the meetings needed to be changed. "Trustees are responsible for a charity's finances, but they aren't really interested in them and don't really understand them," Walker-Smith says. "We needed to make better use of their skills."

THE PROCESS

Trustees decided to dedicate more time to Nova's strategic direction, and to ask one of the charity's unit heads to give a talk at the beginning of each meeting about the projects they ran.

Walker-Smith also confined most of the detailed discussion of finances to a pre-meeting with the charity's book-keeper, chief executive, fundraiser and chair that lasted no more than 45 minutes. "That way, the chair doesn't have to ask so many questions at the meeting," he says. "I send the other trustees a summary and make sure they have read it, or take them through it at the meeting."

THE OUTCOME

Reaction has been positive. "Our first meeting under the new arrangements wasn't a lot shorter, but it was far more constructive," says Walker-Smith. "When you engage with what a charity does, you feel you are making a real difference."

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