RSPCA plans to halve size of board, says chief executive

The animal charity is reforming its governance in the wake of a review that reported in 2017

Chris Sherwood
Chris Sherwood

The RSPCA wants to halve the size of its board and introduce term limits as part of attempts to reform its governance, the charity’s chief executive has told Third Sector.

The changes come after an independent review of the charity’s governance, a report on which was published in 2017 and completed by Pesh Framjee, global lead on non-profits for the accountancy firm Crowe.

That review made a number of recommendations, including introducing three co-opted members of the board, also known as its council, and enforcing the charity’s code of conduct more rigorously in board meetings.

Chris Sherwood, who was appointed to lead the charity last year, said the new proposals went beyond those proposed in the independent review and would shrink the board from 25 to 12 members, three of whom would still be co-opted members.

Term limits of nine years are also being proposed, bringing the RSPCA in line with the Charity Governance Code, and a new committee will be created to improve communication between the national charity and its approximately 160 branches.

Sherwood said the changes were subject to approval by members at the charity’s annual general meeting in June and could be enacted by autumn 2019.

"We are at the start of a really important conversation in the history of the RSPCA this year," he said.

"We are not doing this just for the sake of changing governance. We are doing this because council wants higher standards of governance so that we’re in the best possible position to make a difference for animal welfare."

Sherwood said he was focusing on a leadership style that made him "seen and present" across the charity and a series of events at the charities branches had allowed staff members to meet and question the charity’s executive team.

The RSPCA has had a troubled recent history with chief executives. Sherwood’s predecessor, Jeremy Cooper, stood down with immediate effect in July 2017, having served approximately a year in the role.

Cooper’s stint as chief executive was preceded by more than two years in which the RSPCA did not have a permanent leader after Gavin Grant stepped down in 2014 for health reasons. Grant was in the role for just over two years.

"I wouldn’t have taken the job if I was only going to be here for 12 months," Sherwood said. "That’s not what I’m about.

"I think when you’re a chief executive or a leader, the test is if you leave it better for the next person, and that’s what I’m very much focused on. The organisation has challenges, but what large charity today doesn’t have challenges?"

Sherwood also touched on the safeguarding scandals that have beset the charity sector over the past year, saying that charities should welcome the spotlight and increased scrutiny, and set a higher standard of behaviour.

"I am really pleased that those things are being called out," he said. "One of the things that people who are perpetrators and abusers want us to do is not talk about it."

He said the charity was acting on addressing bullying at the RSPCA, after a report by the trade union Unite showed that three in ten staff at the charity had been bullied in the previous year.

The RSPCA is investing in management development training for its top 250 managers, Sherwood said, and had made the issue a top priority, having appointed a director of people and culture when he first came into post.

Sherwood said he would also like to see the Charity Commission discuss falling public trust in the sector in the context of wider loss of trust in all public institutions. He said he would not change the charity’s work advocating on behalf of animals despite criticisms in some parts of the national media.

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