I've been an admirer of the work of NVCO for a while now, and have found its ideas and publications very useful on occasions. I was browsing their website the other day, after a Coalition meeting – not that coalition – and re-read its Good Trustee Guide. Its 12 essential board responsibilities seem a good evaluative framework for all charity trusrees to keep regular tabs on how effective they are being:
Set and maintain vision, mission and values The trustee board is responsible for establishing the essential purpose of the charity as set out in the objects of its governing document. They are also responsible for guarding the ethos and values of the charity.
Develop strategy Together, the trustee board (and chief executive where employed) develop long-term strategy. Meeting agendas reflect the key points of the strategy to keep the organisation on track.
Establish and monitor policies The trustee board creates policies to govern organisational activity. These cover guidance for staff and/or volunteers, systems for reporting and monitoring, an ethical framework for everyone connected with the organisation and the conduct of trustees and board business.
Ensure compliance with the governing document The governing document is the rulebook for the charity. The trustees must ensure it is followed. In particular, the charity’s activities must comply with the charitable objects in the governing document.
Ensure accountability The trustees should ensure that the charity fulfils accountability as required by law to (including): The Charity Commission, HM Revenue and Customs and the Registrar of Companies (if it is a company limited by guarantee). This includes publishing annual reports and accounts. The charity should also be accountable to other groups who are sometimes known as stakeholders: donors, beneficiaries, staff, volunteers and the general public.
Ensure compliance with the law Trustees are responsible for checking that all the charity’s activities are legal.
Maintain proper fiscal oversight The trustees are responsible for effectively managing the charity’s resources and funding so it can meet its charitable objects. The trustee board: secures sufficient resources to fulfill the mission, monitors spending in the best interests of the charity, approves the annual financial statement and budget, protects the charity against liability by providing insurance, seeks to manage risk for the charity and ensures compliance with the law.
Respect the role of staff / volunteers The trustee board recognises and respects the domain of staff and / or volunteer responsibility. At the same time, it creates policy to guide staff and/or volunteer activities and safeguard the interests of the charity.
Maintain effective board performance The board keeps its own house in order. It engages in productive meetings, effective committees with adequate resources, development activities and regular reviews of its role. The board is also responsible for overseeing trustee board recruitment.
Promote the organisation Through their own behaviour, their governance oversight and their activities on behalf of the charity trustees enhance and protect the reputation of their charity. They are good ambassadors for the charity.
Set up employment procedures The trustee board creates comprehensive, fair and legal personnel policies. These protect the charity and those who work for it. They cover recruitment, support, appraisal, remuneration and discipline.
Select and support the chief executive If necessary, the trustee board creates policy covering the employment of a chief executive. They also select and support the chief executive and review their performance.
Whilst some charities might be too small to need this sort of elaborate framing for self-scrutiny, these 12 points still provide useful questions for trustees to be asking each other now and then.