Charity Governance Code - embrace the challenge

Nick Sladden, speaker at the Charity Governance Conference, 8 March 

Compliance with the Charity Governance Code is the first step in developing the culture of leadership

Last year trust in charities was lower than trust in the average man or woman in the street, according to Charity Commission research.

Charities may take scant comfort that they are still more trusted than private companies, banks, MPs and newspapers, but frankly this isn't a good result.

Most people acknowledge that one such factor (scored at 8.3 out of 10 by respondents) to improve this trust rating is for charities to be well-governed and well-managed. Yet the factor of trust that people actually place in charities being well-managed is a mere 5.3 out of 10.

The Governance Code has been a measure of best practice since 2005 operating in parallel with the Charity Commission’s Hallmarks of an Effective Charity publication. The former was substantially re-written in 2017 and consequently the Commission withdrew its guidance.

During this time, the theory of good governance has grown as evidenced by the proliferation of seminars, guides and best practice announcements.

Yet how well are charities tackling the governance challenge in practice?

The controversies of a few years ago surrounding charities such as Age UK and Kids Company shone a harsh spotlight on governance issues and prompted much soul searching. And even now, 18 months since the Code was last updated, there's been a fresh wave of headlines around safeguarding involving Oxfam and Save the Children.

Compliance with the Code may no longer be enough but it’s a great starting point. Best practice moves on, and charities need to adapt. So how can charities tackle the governance challenge in practice?

In summary, it’s about ‘having a go’. Complying with the Governance Code is meant to be far more than a simple tick-box exercise. It’s about being able to identify areas that may not have previously been given consideration or where a charity’s current practice and culture are found wanting against modern-day benchmarks.

Considering the Code is the crucial first step in developing a culture of leadership and moving further along the street so that your charity is ultimately more trusted than the average man or woman.

But that’s just a side-benefit. To quote the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, 'the most basic form of human stupidity is forgetting what we are trying to accomplish’. If good governance can improve the impact for beneficiaries then that’s a journey worth taking.

Nick will share preliminary results from RSM's research on applications, effectiveness and challenges associated with following the Charity Governance Code at the ICSA charity governance conference.  

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