Governance for Voluntary Sector Organisations – The Basics

Governance is the systems and processes concerned with ensuring the overall direction, effectiveness, supervision and accountability of an organisation.

Good governance ensures:

  • compliance with law and regulation
  • that an organisation is well run and efficient
  • that problems are identified early and dealt with appropriately
  • the preservation of the reputation and integrity of the sector
  • that charities make a difference and the objects of the charity are advanced 

If you are a trustee or member of the governing body you have specific responsibilities which you must carry out with the other members of the governing body, according to your constitution and relevant legislation.  For that reason it is helpful to distinguish between governance and any other roles you and others may carry out.

Governing Duties

  • Agree the purpose of the charity or non profit organisation
  • Agree broad strategies to carry out the charity or non-profit’s purpose effectively
  • Account for the organisation’s performance
  • Ensuring the organisation operates within the law

Management is about implementing the strategies agreed by the Board e.g. by detailed planning, putting procedures in place and by raising money.  If you are not a member of the Board you will be involved in management and implementation, either as a member of staff or as a volunteer.

In your role as a Trustee or Board member it is your duty, and your colleagues, to make decisions about direction.  When you are acting outside that role e.g. as a regular volunteer, it is not your place to decide the organisation’s direction.  The key priorities and challenges for the organisation and its board will depend on its stage of development.

Charities are governed by a Board of Trustes that takes overall responsibility for its work.  Governance is the term used to describe the trustees’ role in:

  • Securing the long term direction of the charity (furthering its objects or purposes as set out in its governing document)
  • Ensuring that policies and activities achieve those objects
  • Ensuring the charity is run in a way that is legal, responsible and effective
  • Being accountable to those with an interest or ‘stake’ in the charity.

Good governance runs throughout a charity. The Board of Trustees is responsible for good governance and relies on many different people to be able to govern well – staff, Chief Executive, volunteers, advisors and others with an interest or stake in the organisation.

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