Today’s news about Alan Yentob serves to highlight the fact that when you volunteer as a charity trustee, you need to take those trustee responsibilities seriously.
Alan Yentob has stepped down as the BBC’s Creative Director because of the controversy surrounding his role as trustee, and indeed Chairman of the Kids Company charity. Kids Company closed suddenly earlier this year amid claims of financial mismanagement. I admire any individual who puts their head above the parapet to contribute and give time to a charity or community organisation. Sadly in this case, it’s come to a sticky end. There’s no suggestion of misappropriation of funds or any personal benefit. I am sure that he only wanted the best for the charity and only wanted the best for the children that Kids Company set out to support. However he feels that the speculation is “proving a serious distraction”.
Isn’t it sad that somebody feels the need to give up his senior role at the BBC because of the good that he has chosen to do. He’s not giving up his role because he’s been accused of fraud, or murder, or arson, or any horrific crime. He wanted to make the world a better place. He wanted to focus on his contribution to the world. So many of us contribute through volunteering for a charity, in our church, in the local community, or joining the Parent Teachers Association. In this case, giving his time and support to a charity, has gone seriously wrong.
When it comes to it, volunteering as a charity trustee is a serious commitment. The charity trustees share ultimate responsibility for governing a charity and directing how it is managed and run, including its finances. Trustees may be called something else e.g. the management committee, governors, or the board. However no matter their name, their responsibilities remain the same. In essence the trustees are responsible for protecting charities and their assets.
If you are thinking of applying as a trustee, it makes sense to check your commitments first. Read about it at The Charity Commission.
From what we’ve read and heard about Kids Company, concerns about the charity’s precarious financial status had been raised before the charity collapsed in August. As William Shawcross who chairs The Charity Commission rightly points out in an article in the Financial Times in August, “trustees need to be able to read the balance sheet and to hold the executive to account”.
Nobody is suggesting that this is an easy role. However if you feel there’s something not quite right or the accounts don’t stack up (or in the case of Kids Company there are no reserves), as a trustee it is YOUR responsibility to speak up. “They have to ensure that proper standards of governance are maintained, especially when they are managing large, sensitive or complex operations. What charities need to do is to attract people with not just passion but also a sense of engagement and responsibility.”
I hope that this high profile case has not put you off from volunteering your time, knowledge and experience as a trustee for a charity. However do remember that you need to take the trustee responsibilities seriously.
What are your thoughts on this story? Do leave a comment below.