OPINION: Report is step in direction of good trustees

GERALDINE PEACOCK, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

Relax, this is not another critique of the Strategy Unit report or Private Action, Public Benefit as it is now called. Plenty of commentators have lauded or disparaged it.

However, I do wish that people in the sector, and journalists too, would look for the positives. If we look for barriers they will always be there.

Let's think laterally, use ingenuity and look for wins. There is a great deal in this report to build on.

But I digress. This piece is not about the report, but about two things it brought to the forefront of my mind - the issues of attracting good trustees and board appraisal. These are crucial ingredients for the future success of not-for-profit organisations, whatever institutional form they take.

The need for efficient governance and quality trustees are critical for the effective performance of the sector. For charities, as the report says, "governance problems can have a profound impact, especially when organisations are forced to dedicate considerable resources to resolving internal disputes". Indeed, there has been plenty of coverage in recent months on trustee disputes within major charities, which caused grave reputation damage.

The report addresses these issues. It encourages younger people to think about trusteeship. It also suggests that charities should be transparent about recruitment, induction and development of trustees.

Why not build on the report and go a little further? Two things spring to mind. First, at present many people cannot be trustees because they would have to take annual leave to attend daytime meetings. Second, while appraisal systems for staff are accepted good practice within the sector, assessing the performance of governance structures and of trustees is still quite rare.

On the first issue, why not encourage employers to allow employees time to attend trustee meetings as part of an active citizenship campaign?

On the second, why not add details of the processes for reviewing the performance of the board to the list of things to be evidenced in charities' accounts?

The outcome being less management and governance tension, a far wider pool of potential trustees and greater accountability. Let's go for it, nothing ventured nothing gained.

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