Most people know that the Board of Trustees has ultimate legal responsibility for NCT. But not everyone knows that we are unpaid, part-time volunteers. Our overall time commitment is around 1 day a month, and we plan to meet as a whole board five times a year. So how do we trustees discharge our duties?
We focus on strategy, governance and compliance.
Like most boards of large charities, we formally delegate the management of NCT to skilled professionals: our Chief Executive and wider team. This happens within an overall framework of trust and accountability. All must be clear about who is responsible for what, and respect the boundaries.
Exercising accountability isn’t necessarily about disagreeing with particular decisions that have been made. Trustees don’t exist simply to second-guess the experienced professionals, specialist workers and volunteers who run our charity.
But trustees do have a unique responsibility to ask the higher-order questions, such as:
- Is NCT’s long-term strategy right? Do we have a credible plan and the resources to execute that strategy? Are we making progress against that plan? If not, why not?
- Do we have the right policies in place to govern day-to-day working? Are we complying with those policies? Are they having the desired effect? If not, why not?
- What risks do we face? Which are the most significant? Are they being realised? What are we doing to mitigate them?
We’ve got to be evidence-based.
Informed decision-making means getting to grips with a lot of detailed information and data. Our job requires a lot of reading – preparing for a board meeting can take half a day or more.
Evidence-based is a mindset. It means being clear about the question that needs answering and not getting side-tracked. It means weighing different types of evidence, carefully considering all sides of an issue, not leaping to conclusions or letting personal biases get in the way.
Like all charities, we have a strong policy on conflicts of interest to ensure individual trustees aren’t involved in decisions where they have a personal stake in the outcome.
We’ve got to be OK with complexity.
Charities and boards are being held to higher standards of professionalism than ever before by stakeholders, regulators and of course the parents we serve. NCT is a big charity, with complex operations, exposed to material risks including financial ones.
NCT needs its board to pay attention to a really wide range of issues – just five recent examples include supplier management, capital reduction, staff remuneration, grievance policies and service quality.
That doesn’t mean trustees need specialist expertise in all those areas. But we do need to be comfortable handling complex topics. Very often that means knowing what we don’t know, and knowing what to do when that happens.
We act collectively.
The board is collectively responsible for the charity, so we make decisions collectively.
Sound decision-making requires high-quality challenge and debate around the board table. Diversity of thought and experience helps guard against groupthink by ensuring more angles get considered. And a respectful tone of discussion encourages open debate and open minds.
Once a decision has been made, we – trustees and staff team – respect the principle of collective responsibility by uniting behind that decision. We treat it as binding and support its implementation. This is a founding principle of how charity boards operate, as described in the Charity Governance Code.
Want to know more?
Find out more about NCT’s Trustees – who they are and how they work https://www.nct.org.uk/about-us/our-trustees
Read the Charity Governance Code https://www.charitygovernancecode.org/en/front-page
Read the Charity Commission’s guidance on the formal duties of charity trustees https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-essential-trustee-what-you-need-to-know-cc3