Creating better charity boards

14 November 2023
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Trustees Week may be over, but the key values it celebrates are year-long. At Pilotlight we want to continue the momentum by sharing best practice, because we know from our experience that governance can be a challenge for charities. It's also often the key to the door that needs to be unlocked before a charity can get to the next stage in its development. Each board faces individual challenges, but over time, we have seen certain trends emerge when exploring the governance of an organisation:

Boards of trustees are slightly detached from the charity itself

This is a virtue of their roles as overseers, but can become a problem if the board is not engaged with the charity’s direction. This is why we stipulate that trustees should attend at least one in three meetings during Pilotlight 360 – talking about the big picture is a crucial conversation for trustees to have.

One of our favourite methods to promote board engagement are Away Days. Our Pilotlighters always enjoy participating in these sessions, hearing the input from everyone in the organisation, and gently coaching the CEO and Chair in working out what the charity might need from its board. The majority of our Partner Charities report greater strategic thinking after the programme – an outcome we are extremely proud of.

The need for clear roles and responsibilities

Another of our discoveries is the lack of clear roles and responsibilities for trustees. As fantastic as many trustees are, and we have worked with many dedicated, passionate and skilled trustees through Pilotlight 360, we sometimes find that if there is no accountability for actions on the board, the charity will stall and its development will be limited. However, it is a very easy state to slip into, and for many charities it is difficult to establish clear processes without pan-board engagement.

The role of Chair is key

If there is one thing we have learnt at Pilotlight, it is that Chairs can come in all shapes and sizes and skills, but the role is a cornerstone of the organisation and can impact many areas. Take the relationship between the CEO and the Chair, for instance. The ideal is a committed, productive, professional relationship, where opinions and views of both staff and board are communicated effectively, and the charity’s future is planned and steered. The unique model of the fully managed Pilotlight 360 contributes to the development of these relationships, as we give the senior charity representatives a room removed from the firefighting of business-as-usual, and space to honestly air their thoughts.

Governance is without doubt a delicate and thorny issue to explore, and it can be especially hard to try and implement change within. The benefit of exploring an organisation's governance in the long-run is valuable and vital in driving a charity forward with purpose and positivity.

Written by
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Iain McNicol
Charity Experience Manager - Pilotlight

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Interested in more on this topic?

Watch the recording of our event on charity board conflicts. Hear from our panel of experts about the challenging subject of governance and how to identify and fix dysfunctional charity board relationships.