Regulation with Rosie: Using trustees' time efficiently

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on using trustees' time efficiently.

As an employee of the Charity Commission, being a board member of a not-for-profit organisation is something of a busman's holiday for me. Needless to say, my charity's board is constantly looking for ways it can maximise the organisation's effectiveness, whether in procurement, reviewing suppliers or improving service delivery.

I was recently asked to arrange for the charity's trustees to attend a two-hour human resources strategy meeting and a two-hour interview panel - scheduled to happen on two separate days. It occurred to me too late how much more effective it would have been for both events to happen on the same day, given that the same trustees were involved in both meetings. Instead, because of our limited availability, tasks that could have been done in an afternoon took three weeks to be completed.

Trustees are a resource like any other. Using their time wisely and to the purpose is an integral part of maximising any charity's effectiveness. In my role at the commission, I benefit from the organisational skills of our governance team - time is used in the most effective way possible. There is a parallel here for trustees - money invested in supporting governance is money well spent if it enables you to use trustee resources more effectively.

Quite rightly, most charities of any size provide formal support for their directors and chief executives to enable them to work as effectively as possible. I would encourage charities with this type of administrative support in place - and those thinking about introducing it - not to be defensive about the money spent to provide it. Unlike paid staff, trustees can say "sorry, I'm not available". The whole point of providing governance support is to maximise the effectiveness of trustees when they are available.

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

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