EDITORIAL: Using a trustee's services will only blur boundaries

LUCY MAGGS

In a recent seminar, charity managers complained that trustees often seemed uninterested in the organisation and failed to engage with staff.

But complaints run both ways and Julia Unwin, charity commissioner, said that the Charity Commission often hears from trustees who feel they are not given enough information about the organisation or told about developments.

The relationship between charity management and boards is notoriously a problem, and charity staff and the public are frequently confused about what the board does. In theory, trustees are supposed to be involved in strategic planning and stay well away from the day-to-day running.

The Strategy Unit report has suggested that if the board of a charity chooses, trustees should be allowed to take on paid work for the organisation.

The argument is that trustees, who are often selected because they are highly skilled professionals, may provide a useful service for a charity at a considerable discount. For example, a solicitor may carry out some conveyancing for a nominal fee.

But to universally allow the paid participation of trustees in projects that affect the day-to-day running of the organisation would further confuse an already complicated relationship. It would create a conflict of interest and introduce a questionable motive for professionals to become trustees.

This could result in charities taking on the services of trustees rather than a more appropriate outside supplier. The reputation of an organisation may suffer if it regularly took on the services of trustees rather than use independent providers.

Some organisations do already pay trustees for services but this must be set out in the governing document or the Commission has to give its permission. If charities want to get more from their board members, they should invest in better training and recruitment procedures rather than view them as sources of cheap labour.

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