Regulation with Rosie: Contingency planning

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on contingency planning.

Just when it seemed we'd got away with it for one year, London again fell victim to integrated transport chaos when snow finally fell. Listening to fellow commuters try to reschedule contract signings, find plumbers to mend office pipes and track down insurers made me think about the benefits of effective contingency planning.

Global warming may soon make white-outs a source of nostalgia, but a whole range of issues can derail even the best-laid plans. To take an obvious example, one of the reasons to have a properly considered reserves policy is to ensure that a charity can maintain service delivery if funding is disrupted.

Finite funding is the norm for most charities, but they also need to ensure that their forward planning accounts for risks that are less easy to predict.

To name just a few: if your charity is a landlord, if it leases or owns premises, has employees or volunteers, runs cars, vans or minibuses, holds fundraising events, owns equipment or provides face-to-face services to the public, then it's at the mercy of the unpredictable. Theft, breakdown, injury or legal claims can all leave a charity exposed.

Trustees have a duty to safeguard the charity's property, not just from direct loss and damage, but also from third party liabilities. If trustees fail in this duty, they can be held personally liable for making good the charity's losses. Taking out insurance is often the most straightforward way to cover this risk.

Our guidance, Charities and Insurance, looks at the whole range of insurances that trustees of different types of charities should consider. A saturation approach to taking out insurance isn't recommended; apart from anything else, it's a waste of a charity's assets. But looking at the nature, scope and type of risk in the charity and comparing it with our guidance should help make it clear which kind of insurance is relevant.

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

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