Charities exist for people’s wellbeing. The resources they have are devoted to the pursuit of their purposes to achieve that. A crucial part of those resources are the people. Find out in this article how good stewardship of a charity’s people is a prime responsibility for trustees…
Every charity has people who benefit from its activities – the ‘beneficiaries’. Sometimes that is a specific group, who share a particular characteristic or need. For example, children and young people, those affected by a medical condition, or those at risk of homelessness or abuse. For some charities, such as those protecting wildlife and the environment, the beneficiaries are the general public. Other charities need to help people in particular geographic locations, in the UK or overseas.
Trustees and staff must understand who the beneficiaries are, so they can provide the right people with right help. The wording of the charity’s charitable purposes in the constitution is usually the defining legal factor.
Every charity has trustees who govern it, set its strategic direction and make the high-level decisions. Getting the best people onto the board and making the most effective use of their experiences, capabilities and enthusiasms is essential to how effective the charity is.
Trustees need to be good stewards of existing board members and new trustee recruits, encouraging them and providing the correct information and opportunities to participate fully in the board’s governance of the charity.
Every charity also has volunteers including its trustees. Most rely on volunteers to carry out their work, provide or raise funds and support the administration and practical operations. This could be as a Gift Aid officer, caretaker, cleaner, counsellor, or many other roles. For example, the RNLI saves lives inland and on coastal waters thanks to 35,000 volunteers in 100 roles.
Some charities also have paid staff employed to manage the organisation, usually supported by volunteers. They may also benefit from people offering skills and support as professional advisers, such as the services our Charities Team provide.
Nurturing volunteers and staff, based on a good understanding of their particular roles and contributions, is important. Making good use of the talents which the charity’s advisers bring is equally valuable.
Why are people part of your charity?
The motivation for people involving themselves in a charity is typically due to their care for the cause, as well as their desire to serve the community and help others.
Legally and morally, people are involved because charities are fundamentally about providing public benefit. People must assume specific roles because of legal and regulatory requirements, such as the need for trustees, or a Chair to lead the board. Others are in roles that the constitution requires, such as a Treasurer or Finance Trustee, a Secretary, or a Clerk to the Trustees.
Relevance of trustees’ duties
How trustees make best use of the charity’s people and encourage others to do the same, is important to fulfilling their general duties. Especially to:
- Pursue the charity’s purposes for public benefit
- Manage its resources responsibly.
Ethical dimension, culture and practical good stewardship
As good stewards, trustees should cultivate a culture of doing things in the right way. This should be exhibited in the everyday behaviours of all the charity’s people, from social media posts to phone calls, from travelling with care to respecting others when performing charitable activities.
The trustees should ensure inappropriate attitudes and behaviours, identified within their own team, or shown by others towards the charity’s people are challenged.
They should also be alert to potentially negative power imbalances within the charity and find ways to address them.
The Charity Ethical Principles urge charities and their people always to:
- Uphold the highest level of institutional integrity and personal conduct
- Choose openness and transparency as their preferred approach
Charities that exhibit these principles treat people with respect, recognising their human dignity and rights. They explain publicly, clearly and accessibly, how they operate, what they do, where they use their people and other resources, and why. They also communicate what their charitable outcomes are, what difficulties they encountered and how they addressed them.
Perhaps your annual trustees’ report and accounts, your website and your other communications could be improved to achieve this better?
More positive people stewardship
Equip people to assist them in their roles. What training, development or other support could help your people deliver the charity’s work more effectively? A session highlighting the charity’s core legal purpose and nature, and why good stewardship is fundamental to them, might be valuable.
Keep people safe, which means more than just preventing psychological, emotional or physical harm and abuse; it involves commitment to safe, inclusive and comfortable settings for everyone when they come into contact with the charity. This relates to beneficiaries, donors, supporters, volunteers and members of the public. Whenever and however people encounter your charity, the experience should be positive, whether this is at events, in activities, in your buildings, on your land, in person, or through digital media.
Many other important legal and regulatory areas must be addressed with regard to stewarding your charity’s people, including:
- Employment law which has a fundamental impact on managing the relationship with your paid staff.
- Legal rules and required procedures that protect personal privacy and regulate the handling and confidentiality of personal data. These apply when you collect, keep and use people’s personal information. This includes more obvious information like name, address, date of birth, phone number and email, but can also extend to other identifiers, like details that reveal location. So, your gathered IP addresses, device fingerprint access records, or cookie data may be subject to privacy and identity protection obligations.
- As an employer you must fulfil health and safety requirements to protect your staff. You must also protect others from risks arising from your activities (public, volunteers, beneficiaries and, if the charity sells goods and services, also its customers).
Need some support?
Burton Sweet has a longstanding commitment to charities and civil society organisations, offering practical, professional and passionate support. We want to assist you, so you can deliver effectively for the communities you serve and show the good you do.
For advice on legal, governance and regulatory aspects, including the impact of your constitution, Charity Commission expectations and how trustees should approach their responsibilities, or to discuss training options, please get in touch with our Charities and Civil Society Legal Manager, Cecile Gillard: 0117 9142057
For guidance on managing the financial aspects of your people resources, including understanding and reporting their costs and how they have been used to carry out the charity’s work, please get in touch with our Head of Charity Development, Ed Marsh: 0117 9738441
© Burton Sweet Ltd 2023