Editorial: Don't leave trusteeship in a dusty corner

Trusteeship is the heart of the voluntary sector, but you wouldn't think so from the press it's been getting.

Chief executives organisation Acevo thinks trustees are not fit for purpose and is holding an inquiry about improving standards; the Charity Commission tries valiantly to stress the importance of trustees, but it must also remind them of their legal obligations; and now the rules on indemnity insurance have been relaxed and the industry is busy warning trustees they can be personally liable for what happens in their organisations - get a policy, or lose your house. And just to muddy the waters completely, there has been controversy about several high-profile cases of substantial payment to trustees. It's enough to make potential trustees change their minds and run for cover.

For many in the better-informed and more privileged parts of society, the negative stuff doesn't register too strongly. Their parents, friends or colleagues are likely to be, or have been, trustees; they are familiar with the importance and rewards of the role and know that being a trustee really isn't a high-risk occupation. They know that, providing trustees act honestly and in good faith, the Charity Commission and the courts are likely to be as lenient as possible if things go seriously wrong. They know from experience that the upside is far stronger than the downside.

But the focus these days is on other kinds of people. The priority now is to spread the word, break the self-perpetuating cycle of trusteeship by the usual suspects - no disrespect to them - and recruit the talents of a wider range of people. And the big question is: where do such people start? Many would-be trustees, for personal or professional reasons, know the charity or the kind of charity that they want to serve, which makes matters easier. But many others know only that they have time, energy and skills to offer, but are unsure where to start. The Charity Commission? The Governance Hub? The Charity Trustee Network? All these excellent organisations will help, but can they provide more than part of the answer?

In these pages last week, former Charity Commission chair Geraldine Peacock called for a single point of access to information about governance and trusteeship - a fresh organisation that doesn't start with the codes and the caveats and the reminders about legal liability, but starts instead with enthusiasm, inspiration, role models and opportunities. It's definitely something the sector should think seriously about, because if someone doesn't talk it up and give it a bit more front, trusteeship will always have a tendency to fall back into a fusty, dusty corner.

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