OPINION: A blueprint for best practice in governance

GERALDINE PEACOCK, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

The role of a trustee means taking on a great deal of responsibility in return for what must feel sometimes like a less than warm welcome from the staff. At best, trustees play a fundamental role, agreeing/monitoring the charity's strategy and performance. At worst, they are perceived to be so far removed from the sharp end that they don't understand the issues facing the charity.

Charity law does not help since it legislates for a "master/servant

relationship that is increasingly challenged as the voluntary sector recruits more professional staff and plays an important role in the social economy.

As with many things, it is all a question of getting the balance right.

A current slogan at Guide Dogs says: "There have been many great double acts, but only one extraordinary partnership.

This alludes to the guide dog and its owner, but it is also true of the trustee/management relationship.

For many, the announcement that the voluntary sector's National Training Organisation is to develop occupational standards for trustees will be welcome. While most charities agree that they spend considerable effort in recruiting senior staff, many admit they have difficulties appointing trustees.

We need to invest time in defining what is needed in our charities and how you develop trustees to achieve this. In order to do this there are number of steps we can take.

Support trustees by providing clear role descriptions and job specs; carry out regular skills analyses; provide good induction programmes and link staff and trustees with shared knowledge. Evaluate board performance on a regular basis and have clear procedures in place to deal with rogue trustees.

Clarify the difference between governance and management before it turns into an open wound with trustees trying to micromanage projects and management trying to create policies "on the hoof".

Finally, appoint a strong chairperson who can work closely with the chief executive. It can be a heady relationship between their two teams that can liberate the organisation. Ignore it or take it for granted and it can be extremely dysfunctional. It's a question of establishing mutual trust and, with that in place, you can move beyond good intentions to produce a vibrant double act.

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