Trustees and managing the current environment – charities webinar

21 Dec 2020

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Trustees are ultimately responsible for ensuring a charity is doing what it is set up to do. The Covid-19 pandemic has refocused the regulators on this area and trustees need to be able to demonstrate they are fulfilling their responsibilities. On 2 December we hosted a webinar that explored the key questions for trustees to consider during the Covid-19 pandemic to help them demonstrate they are fulfilling their responsibilities.

Our presenters were:

  • Claire Wills, a partner in the Charities and Not-for-Profit Team at Saffery.
  • Helen Stephens, a senior manager in the Charities and Not-for-Profit Team at Saffery.
  • Sarah Rowley, a partner in the Charities and Not-for-Profit Team at Charles Russell Speechlys.

Following our previous webinar that looked at forecasting in uncertain times, we started by discussing forecasting from a trustee perspective, as it is often management that prepare the documents which are ultimately approved by the trustees. The key takeaways were: retaining a ’what if’ mindset when planning for different scenarios; looking far enough ahead; and identifying areas that need particular focus (such as unsecured income in the forecasts).

We then talked through areas of consideration for a charity’s high level strategy and more detailed business planning, given the external pressures in the current climate.

We turned to dealing with risk. The key document here is the Charity Commission’s risk guidance, CC26 Charities and risk management. This includes general guidance of how to assess and manage risk, which is helpful for discussions around how the pandemic changes your charity’s level of risk and updating your risk register.

Our next key topic was reserves policies. Particularly for trustees with a non-financial background, it is important to be clear on what your charity’s free reserves are and what an appropriate target range would be. The pandemic has prompted many charities to revisit their target reserves range and also consider the need to dip in to free reserves.

We then explored the importance of framing your story in the trustees’ report. Acknowledging the difficulties of a year should not mean that achievements are overshadowed. Any potential changes in strategy should also be explained. The key message here is to keep it balanced and ensure a timetable allows sufficient time for the board to have proper input in to the report.

Sarah Rowley then took us through a number of key topics with a legal focus. This started by exploring opportunities for mergers and collaborations in the current times, with a focus on doing what is best for the beneficiaries of the charity and key tips for ensuring a successful merger process.

Even before the current pandemic, a number of high profile charity scandals have shone a light on governance when it goes wrong. The key resource for charities in England and Wales is the Charity Governance Code, which has recently been refreshed. We discussed the benefits of a governance review, trustee training, and frameworks for delegation in terms of working towards best practice in governance.

Serious incident reporting has been at the forefront in many conversations in recent times and Sarah concluded our webinar by covering this important area and explaining the key terms in the guidance for when to report.