Governance tip 1 – Know the key parts of your mem and arts

It’s something of a mouthful, but the Memorandum and Articles of Association (two documents, rarely separate) is what the Charity Commission describes as the rule book for the way in which your charity operates. Whilst these documents are generally a little less dusty these days, some charity leaders still don’t know where they are on the system, let alone what they contain.

As a Chair or CEO you should have access to the M&A at every formal meeting involving trustees and any members, in particular an AGM. You won’t need it often, but as it is the instrument of governance, it can answer some of the cloudiest questions that a charity board will ask, and if you don’t follow the section about purpose, your organisation is entering dangerous territory.

A new CEO should find time to read both documents in full, once.

Whilst doing so highlight anything which is ever likely to matter in the future – typically the following 20% or so of the document: purpose of the organisation; how to appoint and get rid of trustees (and how many you need); how to notify and run meetings; what other committees and posts need to exist; what minimum numbers you need to be quorate; how to close the organisation down (and implications for mergers/takeovers), and who is liable for what.

Having done that, diarise an annual ‘smoke alarm’ check  – a 12-monthly skim over the highlighted sections – and an annual circulation of the document in the board papers, so that your trustees are also reminded who, or in this case what, is the boss.

This is one of a series of Practical governance tips for charity Chairs and Chief Executives.