The charity sector must develop better governance arrangements or risk losing the trust of the public, Sir Stephen Bubb, the chief executive of Acevo, told members at his organisation’s CEO Summit last week.
Bubb said that Acevo, the membership body for charity chief executives, was currently supporting 23 chief executives in crisis – far higher than the one or two cases it usually manages. In the majority of these cases, he said, the problem was poor governance.
Speaking to Third Sector after the event, Bubb said: "The last three calls have all been about a breakdown in the relationship between the board and the executive team. It’s a worrying trend."
He described the number of cases as "totally unprecedented".
He added that the number of excellent trustee boards was much lower than the number of poor ones.
"Bob Diamond, the former chief executive of Barclays bank, said that culture is what you do when no one’s looking," he said. "Chairs and chief executives have a duty to build a strong culture.
"There’s currently great trust in charities, but we can lose that in the same way as banks, doctors, journalists and politicians.
"We can’t afford too many scandals. It’s time we paid more attention to good governance."
He added that although charities had generally become more professional in recent years, not much had changed to improve governance arrangements. "Too many people muddle through and that’s not good enough," he said.
Bubb said the sector needed more freedom from the Charity Commission to change its governance structures if needed.
"We need more freedom to pay trustees and to have unitary boards, made up of both executives and non-executives," he said.