Regulation with Rosie: Back to basics

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on going back to basics.

I always try to write about something that reflects the sector's breadth and increasing sophistication. I know how infuriating instructions on how to suck eggs can be, and I also know how effective most charities are. However, a consultant recently told me some shocking stuff about a prestigious and wealthy charity.

Its governance arrangements were a mess. No minutes were kept, no records existed of how decisions were made and there were no procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest. As a result, the trustees were engaged in an ongoing dispute that was proving both messy and costly. So this week's column is subtitled 'never neglect the nitty-gritty'.

Attracting the most powerful patrons in the land, raising vast sums and having an enviably high profile is worse than useless if the basic governance structures aren't in place. These are not difficult - they require no management degree or levels of administrative proficiency beyond the reach of mere mortals. The commission provides guidance on all of them.

Meet regularly, in quorum. Be clear about collective responsibility and don't ignore any creep of factionalism. Minute your meetings, take decisions together and record how you arrived at them. Put in place basic procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest. Review your governing document and see what changes are needed. Ensure you have robust procedures for dealing with problematic people - whether it's an underperforming chief executive or a chair who won't move on.

Perhaps most importantly of all, don't take any of this for granted. If these arrangements aren't currently in place in your board, make them your number one priority. If they are, keep them under review. Without continuing, effective governance, the only thing boards store up is trouble.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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