Effective Governance During Periods of Unprecedented Change
Trustees remain fully accountable for the charity they govern, its staff, volunteers and beneficiaries through a time of crisis. At a time when the executive team need to be free to focus on operational matters, support from the board matters more than ever.
GatenbySanderson has pulled together a seven-point checklist of the key issues trustees should consider to ensure they offer the best support to their organisation.
Seven issues for trustees to consider
With many people wanting to reach out and help others, charities must ensure they safeguard their beneficiaries, volunteers and staff. This non-negotiable is especially relevant for those directly helping communities or vulnerable members of society who are self-isolating. Check your safeguarding policy and procedures are up to date and remind all staff and volunteers of their responsibilities.
2. Safety and welfare of staff
All staff but particularly those serving on the front line in community care, residential, health and education settings. Trustees should be reassured during the acute phase of this pandemic that everything possible is in place to ensure staff and those they serve are physically safe. This will most likely include changes to patterns of staff deployment to ensure continuation of service. In addition to physical safety, mental health will be an important consideration during this time.
3. Review your Business Continuity Plan
Identify potential risks that Coronavirus might present, complete with a response to manage them. Assign authority to staff or individual trustees to make tactical decisions quickly and clarify who will step in to take decisions should the Chair fall ill.
It’s a cruel irony, that at a time when the NHS needs to keep as many people out of hospitals as possible, charities that offer non-critical care are seeing their income streams slashed by up to 48%. The government has said that charities will get support to help pay staff, but while welcome, this help will only go so far to keep services open.
Trustees should consider what immediate action needs to be taken to manage finances, considering that cash flow is likely to be shorter and contingency costs higher. Check the government’s latest advice on the use of reserves and restricted funds to help a charity get through a crisis.
Review whether the organisation needs to speak to funders about the impact of cancelling, delaying project activities or even in re-purposing funds.
5. Refocus efforts and activities in line with your charitable purpose
Identify which of your essential operations and services are most in demand and prioritise these. Could you partner with other organisations to continue to deliver services or offer new forms of support?
Organisations and individuals have a limited capacity, needs are fast changing and the risk of staff absence due to self-isolation or sickness is high. It’s as important to decided what you won’t be doing while the UK is in the acute phase.
The Board of trustees should be a calming influence during a crisis. More than ever employees, volunteers and beneficiaries will look to the board for reassurance. Most people feel overloaded with information right now and need short, clear, and concise updates. Don’t forget to communicate your thanks to all stakeholders for their ongoing support and hard work.
Remember that your fellow trustees themselves may be managing a busy day job alongside their Board commitments, as well as their own health and family concerns. It will be important to balance the need for swift and effective crisis management and communication with the understanding that trustees may be supporting more than one organisation to respond to COVID-19.
7. Keep the mechanics of governance turning
Right now, some filing and auditing duties may feel lower priority, but this phase will pass, and in time regulators will request documentation. Try to keep on top of these requirements albeit with a lighter touch. The Charity SORP has issued updated guidance about what and how to report accounts and finances.
While physical meetings are forbidden, if your charity is required to hold an AGM at a specific time, or to reach what might be an unachievable quorum, notify the Charity Commission in advance.
Finally, in this brave new world of virtual Board meetings do check the Charity Commission’s rules (CC48) for remote meetings to ensure you remain compliant.