OPINION: Conflict can cripple the cause

PETER STANFORD, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

The Notting Hill Carnival has had its share of bad publicity in the past - much of it unwarranted, I should add. But it could have done without the image this past week of two bouncers guarding the front entrance of the organising trust's offices at the behest of chief executive, Claire Holder, as she resists her trustees' efforts to replace her.

This all highlights one of the golden rules of charities - that disagreements between chief executives and trustees are the main reason organisations fail.

The problem often can be nothing more than a personality clash, but beyond that lies a structural flaw unique to charities. There is a complete separation between the governing role of the trustees and the executive role of the chief executive. A chief executive cannot be a trustee and a trustee cannot be a paid member of staff. Imagine if the same rule were applied to business, if none of the board had any hands-on role within the company. It would be regarded as a recipe for chaos.

On one side you have the full-time, salaried chief executives. On the other you have a group of trustees who, with the best will in the world, are enthusiastic amateurs. Most will have demanding day jobs. Yet power resides entirely with these largely absentee trustees, even though the chief executive will often, and sometimes with good cause, think that he or she commands the detail and therefore knows better.

Sensible boards get round this by delegating day-to-day powers to the chief executive, but it is a fudge. A more durable solution would be to maintain a number of "independent

trustees on every board as a safeguard, but to allow the rest of the group to be made up of people who have both executive and scrutinising roles, for example, a chief executive who is a trustee, or an executive chairman who is paid and so can devote more than a rushed few hours a week to the charity. It would remove the sense of two conflicting camps, would harness more effectively the professional expertise of trustees, and it might even make those bouncers redundant.

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