Your trustees: Check, Challenge, Support.
We have often written about the need for proper processes and for Trustees to follow guidance and requirements of the Charity Commission or its equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
A recent Charity Commission case has brought this painfully to the fore where £10,000 was stolen from a small charity. If the charity had been run effectively the situation would never had arisen.
Although the organisation concerned was not church or Christian charity it is important to remember that we are all fallible and at risk of temptation. It is also important that our own actions, however well meaning, can increase the temptation of others.
The Charity Commission investigation established that at the time of the theft the charity had been administered by one trustee (now deceased) who had full control of the charity’s finances. Amongst other failings the charity had been late filing its accounts and had failed to file its annual returns - contrary to its legal obligations. The Commission also found that the trustees’ details were out of date with two of those listed having died, and those trustees who had signed the latest accounts were not included on the Commission’s listing.
Once the theft was identified the charity did the right thing and reported a serious incident (RSI) to the Charity Commission who then took action. The trustees cooperated fully with the Commission and have been taking steps to regularise the charity’s position.
So, what went wrong? The trustees failed to have systems in place to make sure that all legal requirements are met, and best practice guidance is followed. It is also important that trustees should welcome and even encourage others to check and challenge their work. For example, asking for external oversight of accounts. Better still is to pre-empt this check and challenge approach. An example of this would be to circulate an email confirming something has been submitted, such as a the charity’s annul return, before being asked for evidence.
It is important that a charity ensures that all new trustees fully understand their obligations. Although some charity law can be detailed and complex the basics are very clear and the Commission produce a useful guide “The essential trustee: what you need to know, what you need to do” (CC3).
Even if your church or organisation is not a registered charity it is still good practice to follow the Commission’s guidance.