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A Well-tuned Board:
Great Governance for Small Charities
Go Team

Governance is the oversight of a charity, undertaken by its trustees (who may be known as board members, directors, management committee members or governors). Governance is their primary responsibility. A well-tuned board will make a significant difference to the smooth running of a charity. It’s quite common in smaller charities that trustees may have limited or no previous experience in the role. There is a plethora of detailed information and advice for trustees. This is a summary of some key points with signposting to more detailed information at the end of the resource.


  1. Develop a good rapport and unity of purpose between board members and with key staff that reflects the organisational culture. Find regular opportunities to pray together and to laugh together. Adding meals to meetings and inviting staff to join some meals can help develop this. Whilst you are a team it’s appropriate to ask questions, to challenge and to have healthy but robust discussions.

  2. Be clear about the role of the board and individual trustees. This is principally to govern or oversee the organisation, not to manage it. Where a trustee takes on particular tasks beyond the board remit, as often happens in smaller organisations, it may be appropriate to recognise they are doing so as a volunteer rather than in their trustee role. The relationship and primary conduit between the board and staff (usually chair and senior staff member eg chief executive) should also be clear.

  3. Provide an induction for new trustees to cover their role, the organisation and its governance document. See the signposts below for relevant documents. In the UK I find The Essential Trustee 6 main duties jigsaw the most helpful summary of trustee responsibilities. Someone (such as the company secretary or chair of trustees) should take responsibility for updating all trustees when relevant Charity Commission/Charity Service regulations change.

  4. A balanced board with a spectrum of skills and experience as well as appropriate diversity is really valuable. Use a board skills matrix to identify gaps and recruit new members accordingly. Keep the number of trustees to a manageable size: enough so that no one is overloaded with responsibilities but sufficiently small so that everyone can contribute at meetings.

  5. Understand and jointly own the vision, mission and values of the organisation and ensure that it’s understood and owned by any staff or volunteers too.

  6. Provide input to and approve the strategic plan. This includes monitoring progress and impact through reports from staff on the implementation of the strategy through programmes and activities. It also means ensuring that all programmes and activities are within the scope of the strategic plan. Use of a strategic filter may help this.

  7. Request and show interest in regular financial updates. Ensure these are well explained, simple enough for everyone to understand and any financial issues are clearly flagged. If you need help look at the resource on twelve steps to interpreting charity accounts.

  8. Risk management is a component of trustee responsibility. It’s a topic that should be considered at least annually by the board. All trustees must be clear who will take the lead in the event of a crisis.

  9. Value and find opportunities to listen to your staff, volunteers and other stakeholders. In particular remember to encourage the staff and give them positive feedback.

  10. It’s important that trustees prepare well for board meetings. It helps if the agenda and papers are circulated several days in advance so that they can be read, considered and prayed about before the meeting. Effective boards will be looking for ways to improve. Regular reviews of board meetings, of individual trustees and overall board performance are essential for this.





  • New Zealand Charity Service

  • The Book of The Board: Effective Governance For Non-Profit Organisations by David Fishel. The Federation Press. A comprehensive reference book covering everything a board might need to know to function well.




AUTHOR & COPYRIGHT Helen Calder 2018


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