The branch of Home-Start of which I am a trustee is very small, so I have been surprised how professionally the board is run. It operates much as I'd expect a company to operate. My particular branch has only three part-time staff and seven trustees. Nevertheless, we still have to deal with all of the things professional organisations have to face, such as data protection - but without the millions of pounds in assets and lots of staff. The charity helps parents with young children.
The board meets quarterly for a formal meeting, which has a very structured agenda. We follow a business plan, and we have regular items on the agenda concerning health and safety, policies and procedures. This can put some people off - in particular, trustees who are more interested in the sharp end of the charity don't like the governance side. Unfortunately, you have to cover it all.
My branch is part of a much larger national organisation. We receive lots of support from the national Home-Start centre in terms of advice, guidance and training courses. We are certainly not left to our own devices.
Thanks to the support we receive from the national centre, there's a very high standard of governance at Home-Start. Regional co-ordinators visit the scheme to check things are being done properly.
Trustees can take a lot of comfort from this because the co-ordinators are there to guide and assist, not to audit. Nevertheless, I am sure that if they thought things weren't going well, they'd do something about it.
When you've got a brand to protect, you need to ensure standards are maintained across the country.
These services are not carried out for free, however. We pay between £1,500 and £2,000 a year to the national centre. Our income is only about £75,000, so to us that's quite a lot of money - but we get good value for it.