Blog on our new 5-minute guides

By Nick Mott

Head of Guidance and Practice

“Give us less guidance and more clarity”. That was the ‘less is more’ message we’ve been receiving loud and clear and what led us to design the new 5-minute guides that we have launched in English and Welsh during this latest Trustees’ Week.

Our overall goal has been to make it much easier and quicker for trustees to find out the basics of what is expected of them on, this includes:

• controlling your charity’s finances
• decision making
• keeping ‘on mission’ and within the rules
• spotting conflicts of interest and dealing with them
• sending information to the Commission, as well as what support you can get from us

Trustees’ Week 2020, a time when we celebrate the huge levels of commitment and dedication of charity trustees, seems an appropriate moment to launch these guides. The guides should help support that commitment by helping trustees navigate with confidence the often difficult issues that come their way, not least as charities England and Wales are either experiencing or preparing for further lockdown restrictions. Knowing the basics that are covered in these 5 guides and knowing where to find more information, provides a great starting point for working out how to proceed.

Some of the common messages and features across all the guides are that:

• responsibility for running a charity is shared by all its trustees
• there are some practical and simple checks that trustees can make, particularly on matters that they might not feel they have much expertise

For example, we know that many trustees may not have a financial background. That’s fine, if the charity has got the expertise somewhere. They do however still share with the other trustees responsibility for making sure the charity’s money is used for the right things, there are good controls against the risk of loss and the charity is able to spot and respond to financial challenges. A read of the 5-minute guide will help trustees know what they should expect to be in place to help them judge if the charity’s finances are sound.  Similarly, we know from our casework that conflicts of interest and decision making more generally can cause difficulties for trustees. What is a conflict of interest? What should be done about it? What are the factors to take into account in order to make good decisions? Our guides on these subjects are designed to help trustees pick up the basics of what to look for and expect.

On a practical level, it’s really important to keep a charity’s registered details up to date and to send the annual return in within the deadline to the Commission. It’s a shared responsibility for trustees to ensure this happens, but this can be simply discharged if the trustees know who is taking responsibility for filing information and what the deadline is so that they can check that the actions are being completed on a timely basis.

We’ve designed the guides to be used in many different contexts. It was great to hear from trustees when we tested the guides, especially on their ideas about how they might use the guides at their charity. Clearly the guides are well suited to induction for new trustees, particularly building on our Welcome Pack,  but many also thought that they’d be great as a refresher, even for experienced trustees. And of course, when you’re faced with a decision that you’re not quite sure how to approach, they’re great as a quick reference.

It is important to stress that these short guides are not the whole story, but they are a good basic syllabus. They show, for example, how the six trustee duties apply in these common situations: those duties do however help trustees with all aspects of governance and it’s helpful to read either the summary (‘Charity Trustee: What’s involved’) or the more detailed The Essential Trustee. We also continue to provide guidance on other issue such as safeguarding, fundraising and trading.

Launching these guides marks the start of our work on overhauling all our trustee guidance, making it clearer and sharper. We’ll also be removing out of date or duplicating material. All of which will really mean less guidance and more clarity.

‘5-minute guides’ for charity trustees

Short guidance on the basics all trustees need to know.