Governance tip 4 – A trustee is for life, not just for meetings… so keep in touch

At some charities, the people accountable for millions of pounds each year to deliver incredibly important work only meet to discuss this work every 3 or 4 months. This is not acceptable. Even with the very best CEO/Chair relationship, all trustees should be involved in the governance of their organisation much more regularly.

Sub-committees are an important part of running larger organisations, and a Finance Sub-Committee in particular can be valuable to spend time considering figures and information in detail. But entirely aggregating responsibility for financial governance to a small group is unwise. Whilst individuals have different skills and knowledge, and it is perfectly reasonably to have some trustees who are less involved than others, all trustees are equally accountable should something go badly wrong.

One practical role of the Chair is to ensure that all trustees have access to a basic level of information that allows them to comply with the purpose of their role. As a minimum all trustees should

  1. Be sent monthly management accounts;
  2. See some form of brief monthly CEO update, which includes information about the two or three of the most important organisational KPIs;
  3. Be invited, and expected, to ask questions about both, with all trustees able to see both the questions and any response which follows.

If regular and appropriate information is not forthcoming from the staff at the charity, it is the role of the Chair to change this.

More regular communication doesn’t sit well with people who are busy, but only involving trustees in occasional meetings will leave them lacking the knowledge (and possibly the motivation) to do their job properly. Of course, more regular communication has the added benefit of ensuring that formal trustee meetings can be used for debate, discussion and decision, rather than serving as a prolonged update from staff.

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