At Work: Law and Governance - Regulation with Rosie

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman offers her top tips on review visits.

There's a big difference between an expert interior designer offering free makeover plans and the threat of the House Doctor descending unasked.

So I was disappointed when the 2000 launch of our review visits programme was followed by alarmist press releases from certain firms about helping charities prepare for this new 'regulatory ordeal' - for a fee.

Review visits aren't audits or investigations. They're 'health checks' on the key aspects of running a charity, with advice on getting the legal bits right and maximising good practice.

So here, for no charge, are the top three tips based on our review of 860 visits made in the past two years.

First, know your governing document and work with it. Fifteen per cent of the charities we visited were operating outside their objects and more than a quarter had weak provisions. Make sure everyone treats the governing document as a living one. If you need its objects updated, let us know.

Second, avoid conflicts of interest. This remains an issue for many otherwise well-run charities - more than half of those visited had inadequate measures to manage them. Go to our website and read A Guide to Conflicts of Interest for Charity Trustees.

Finally, follow good governance procedures. Sloppy governance affects the whole charity. Nearly a third of charities visited didn't have a clear governing structure, such as role descriptions, and a worrying 60 per cent didn't check that their trustees were able to act as trustees. There's so much good guidance out there from bodies such as ours and the NCVO that it's foolish not to use it.

These are our top three tips, and they're all easy to put right. So remember, as confirmed by those we've already visited, a review really is an opportunity, not a threat.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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