06 November 2018
Last night London Youth was honoured to have been awarded the NCVO Winifred Tumim Memorial Prize for best practice in charity governance. It is a testament to our work in this area and the value we place on good governance.
With Trustees’ Week starting on Monday, I have been reflecting on governance and my role as a trustee of other charities, my support for the London Youth trustees, and London Youth’s support for trustees and our member organisations.
I appreciate that governance is not the most exciting of topics, but it is so important to the success of organisations, and I believe much underrated.
Governance is the system of rules, practices and processes by which an organisation is directed and controlled – but good governance is so much more than a bunch of policies and documents. It is how the practices are embedded in to the organisation and culture for effective decision making and working.
Good governance is important to any organisation. However, it is particularly important to charities where the buyers of our services (funders) are usually different from the service users, unlike the corporate sector. Our outputs are not products, and our results are not financial profit.
We have a duty to our stakeholders to deliver quality services and are guardians of our mission. In youth organisations, we must listen to young people about their concerns, issues and desires and hear their ideas. We must ensure that their needs and opportunities are at the heart of decision-making, and we are not just responding to what funders feel should be delivered.
Governance is not just about complying with legal requirements. Governance is not just about preventing “bad practice” or scandals such as recent coverage of international safeguarding issues and fundraising practices in recent years. It is about making sure you are doing the right things in the most effective and sustainable way, and making a difference now and in the future.
I know from my own experience that it can be hard for trustees as volunteers to be close to activities and stakeholders to make the right decisions – but it is also a unique independent position and the perspective can be really valuable. It can be hard to ask the difficult questions, much less answer them – especially if it means change or making difficult choices when funding doesn’t stretch to meet all the needs. It is important to spend time with service users to help inform those complex decisions.
In Trustees’ Week next week, we should celebrate the role of trustees and the challenging role they do – and recognise that good governance should happen throughout a charity. The Trustee Board is ultimately responsible for good governance, but they rely on many different people to be able to govern well: staff, volunteers, advisors and stakeholders. And in a small organisation where the trustees are also the volunteers delivering the activities the challenges can be even greater, but the governance is no less important.
London Youth didn’t work on our governance frameworks to win the prize (although that was a nice bonus!) or to tick boxes for a quality mark assessment. We did it because we wanted to make sure we were working to do the right things for young people and our member organisations. Not everything we have in place is perfect. We haven’t “done governance”. We are always looking to embed good governance in to our ways of working and culture. The environment is changing all the time and we regularly review and update our governance frameworks. It is a journey of development and we are committed to continual improvement.
Our investment in governance was mostly time – but an investment that we were glad to make. It is not a sign of efficiency to have low costs of governance if it is at the price of effectiveness. Good quality decision-making helps us to make more of a difference to the lives of young people in London.
I know that many London Youth members have, or are working towards, the London Youth Quality Mark and are reviewing governance requirements as part of this process. If you are not sure where to start, the London Youth Quality Mark is a good place to begin, but also consider looking at the Charity Governance Code: charitygovernancecode.org
If you are a London Youth member and would like us to send you a template, based on the one we used, to support you to review your governance actions and identify areas for improvement, please email email@example.com
Tania Cohen, Director of Finance & Resources at London Youth