The Crooked Treasurer

On the 16th January the Harrow Observer reported a ‘crooked Treasurer’ stole £50k from the Holy Innocents Church in Kingsbury.

The question is why was this Treasurer able to commit this crime?

Was it because far too much trust was placed on one individual too soon who then abused the trust?

It is good practice to encourage new board members to the board. This not only refreshes the board and the organisation, it brings new ideas and perspectives, but also existing board members are likely to be more vigilant with new members. A trustee board that is closed and over familiar with one another can breed complacency as well as discourage new members to join.  It can also make it difficult for the questions that should be asked to be asked, and challenge practice.

We know this type of abuse is not uncommon. The Charity Commission reported between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2013 of the 1232 compliance cases they undertook the majority involved  concerns about governance (including problems with trustees’ roles and responsibilities) concerns about financial or funding issues (including problems with fraud or misapplied funds, or concerns about accounting). 1

One person’s wrong doing can impact the whole organisation as well as the other trustees who are not directly involved in committing the crime, as they become liable due to the collective responsibility of trustees.

Just because trustees are volunteering their time and doing good for the community it doesn’t mean that they can’t or shouldn’t be questioned. After all they are entrusted with other people’s money (public money) and so they should be held to account about how this money is spent. A charity recruiting a paid member of staff would expect to interview prospective candidates and take up references and properly induct and train the staff member. Isn’t it about time we approached trusteeship in the same way?

What can we do to protect our charities from this type of abuse?

Here’s a few tips:

  • It is good practice to have limits on the number of terms a Trustee can serve for the purposes of renewal and revitalisation.
  • Getting trustees to sign up to a Trustee Code of Conduct that has transparency and openness at its core and encourages Trustees to be inquisitive is one measure that Trustee boards can take.
  • Introduce Trustee Recruitment procedures
  • Introduce an induction programme for Trustees
  • Ensure existing and new Trustees receive training
  • Encourage board review annually
  • Ensuring strong leadership at board level, with clear lines of responsibility and reporting.
  • Making certain that there is a chair at the helm who is willing to hold people to task and make unpopular decisions for the benefit of the charities beneficiaries
  • A culture where questions are asked and practices challenged
  • A commitment to improvement of the organisation

Having such procedures in place is not completely fool proof, as with anything people who have bad intentions will always find a way.  What it does do is send a very clear message that ‘we like to do things properly here’, and would potentially put someone off who has any thoughts of doing something such as this.

What do you think? What have you done in your charity to safeguard against abuse of trust by trustees? Let us know by commenting below or emailing me your thoughts.

Anila Ramanlal

 anilaramanlal@voluntaryactionactionharrow.org.uk

Choosing the Right Chairperson

The trustee board of a charity or voluntary organisation is, in most cases, going to be made up of uniquely passionate individuals, fully invested in the operations and success of their cause and deeply concerned with the quality of their organisation’s decision making. Concentrated passion and enthusiasm like this is a priceless asset to anybody, what is risked when a group like this comes together is creating a mess of ideas or even an atmosphere of unnecessary competition, stifling the input of those less willing to shout over others to be heard. This is when having a truly effective chairperson at board and trustee meetings starts to come into play.

It’s pretty easy to view a chair as the most important person in the room. Not that this is untrue, it just depends on what you feel a chair is most responsible for. Should they be creative? Should they have answers for questions, solutions to problems? Are they a green or red light for ideas that are brought forward? Well no, not really, but this is how they are often seen, making the average chair something of a work horse. Two of the most important skills a chair can have is the ability to communicate and delegate, with authority and sensitivity. More important than their ability to solve problems is their emotional intelligence, their ability to adapt to who they are working with. It is their job to tactfully prevent any one individual from dominating a discussion and to draw more out those who appear a little reluctant. If board members are coming up with great ideas it is the responsibility of the chair to make sure these are followed through with. It’s not their job to take all of this new work on, but to make sure initiatives aren’t discarded and to match the right tasks to the right people.

If you do feel that a chair person is not effective it is not necessarily their own fault. Though a lot of this can come down to the chair’s inability or unwillingness to communicate, a lot of the time the problem lies in recruitment and a board or organisation not taking responsibility for feeding back what is working and what is not. Really take the time to evaluate who would be best for the role. Just because somebody is willing to put himself forward does not mean that they will give you what you need. Understand that this person doesn’t have the easiest job in the world; be willing to offer support and even training if possible.

The best thing you can do is to pay close attention to those individuals who have endeavored to give up their time and offer their skills to support your cause. In your next board meeting, look out for those who make others feel at ease, those who always bring a discussion back to its point and the one who everybody seems to address what they say to, because in that person you have the makings of a great chair and a better board.

James Wright

jameswright@voluntaryactionharrow.org.uk