You can’t sit a group of people around a table and assume that they will automatically become a highly effective governing body. You need to create a culture that ‘grows’ good governance, and enables your trustees to work cohesively together as a team.
What is expected of individual trustees?
There are five key elements that describe the core remit for individual trustees:
- Know and understand the duties and activities required to fulfil the role, including the legal obligations that underpin them
- Actively contribute to the work of the governing body, prepare for, and participate fully in, meetings, training, planning sessions and reviews.
- Give each other support and help, and do whatever possible to manage differences constructively.
- Seek to have constructive and respectful communication and coordination with staff and volunteers, and when necessary use the appropriate procedures for managing concerns about performance and for responding to grievances or complaints.
- Act with integrity, avoid conflicts of interest, and be worthy of the trust invested in the role by ensuring that all decisions are made solely in the interests of the organisation.
What do trustees want?
Once you’ve found the right people, you want to keep them. This is a two way process of both giving and getting. Trustees are required to give much, with no material reward, so it’s important they receive something in return. Examples of what they look for include:
- opportunities to develop skills and learning
- the chance to apply existing skills and experience to a new situation
- the opportunity to influence the development of something they feel passionate about.
So it’s important to know what motivates your trustees when devising a development plan for them.
Enhancing board capacity
Development of the capacity of the governing body should include opportunities for individuals to learn or improve skills and abilities as members of the board, eg in chairing or reading financial reports. It should also identify activities that will contribute to the development of greater competence and effectiveness from the governing body as a whole, eg teamwork or staying up to date with changes to legislation.
A governance manual can assist in the development and overall effectiveness of your board. It may contain some or all of the following depending on the nature of the organisation, its work and size, and should be kept up to date:
- brief history/background of the organisation
- contact details of trustees and key personnel
- calendar of meetings and key events
- copy of the governing document
- the mission statement
- organisational chart
- statement of the roles and responsibilities of trustees
- policy and procedures for monitoring and evaluating the performance of trustees
- policy and procedures for trustee development and training
- terms of reference for meetings and any sub-committees
- code of conduct (download Word file)
- copy of the latest accounts, annual report and board minutes
- current project income and expenditure statements or budget
- procedures for payment of expenses
- procedure for declaring register of interests (download Word file)
- copy of the personnel manual and other relevant policies.
Building Skills and Experience
There are core skills relevant to every governing body. They should be able to:
- think and act strategically
- devise and implement a planning process
- analyse financial information and set out the main financial policies and procedures that the governing body will need to establish
- set financial and other targets and monitor and evaluate performance against those targets
- identify and draw upon a broad range of knowledge and skills as required, eg marketing, project management, employment law.
Governing bodies should have an annual cycle of planning and review. This cycle is often linked to annual returns to regulators, end of year accounts, and appraisals of volunteer and staff performance. An opportunity for the trustees to review their own performance should also be included in the cycle. There are various tools and processes that can be used to support a review:
A board audit can help to identify areas of weakness, where improvement is necessary or even critical. Factors to be measured might include:
- Regular attendance at meetings and participation in sub-committees
- Understanding of roles and responsibilities and the work of the organisation
- Participation in discussions and decision making
- Having the skills, knowledge and understanding to provide effective scrutiny and monitoring.
This kind of performance review should be part of the culture of your organisation and undertaken regularly.
A well-structured review day can be a highly effective tool for identifying success and achievement, as well as areas that require attention and improvement. Areas to look at include:
- attainment of current objectives and targets
- strengths and weaknesses of the organisation
- current plans’ contribution towards long-term aims