There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to great charity governance

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to great charity governance

Expert opinion

In May, I had the pleasure of presiding over the inaugural Charity Governance Awards. These awards – organised by The Clothworkers’ Company along with our partners New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), Reach and Prospectus – are dedicated solely to rewarding great governance. Of late, we’ve read far too often about bad charity governance, but what should be the governance “gold standard”? Would the Charity Governance Awards reveal the secret formula?

The judging process proved to be fascinating and forced us to conclude that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to great governance – sound governance can work in a variety of shapes or forms. For instance, structures and processes that work brilliantly for a large health charity, can struggle to make an effective impact within a small, community-based heritage trust. However, what all of our award winners have in common is that they are delivering the best possible impact to those who really matter – beneficiaries – those whom the winning organisations exist to support.

For example, Leap Confronting Conflict, our winner of the ‘Board Diversity and Inclusivity’ award, knows that a diverse set of trustees is essential for their organisation to succeed.  This social enterprise works hard to ensure that their board reflects both the people they work with and the wider diversity of the UK – 40% of trustees are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and 33% are women. Because they work with young people, Leap Confronting Conflict insists they are represented on the board too. That’s why at least three places are reserved for young graduates of their conflict resolution programmes.

Durham’s St Cuthbert’s Hospice, winner of the ‘Improving Impact’ award for charities with 26+ staff, has benefited immensely from a board that takes the importance of measuring impact seriously. Between 2012 and 2013 the board worked closely with staff and volunteers to refresh the hospice’s vision and values. Staff were invited to board meetings to give them an insight into the management process, while the board also developed governance standards to measure their own performance. Many trustees volunteered in the hospice to gain first-hand experience of the challenges that staff faced. The whole process has not only won them an Award but has led to the Hospice being named the first Outstanding Adult Hospice in the UK by the Care Quality Commission.

These and our other Charity Governance Award winners - Sport 4 Life UK, Mosaic Clubhouse, Robert Thompson Charities and Healthy n Happy Community Development Trust – provide some inspiring examples of great governance. All of their stories can be found on the website at

This is an encouraging start on the journey towards better governance. We expect yet more inspiring, pragmatic and innovative approaches to charity governance when entries open for the 2017 Charity Governance Awards on 6th October this year. If you’re involved with a brilliant charity board, please do share your story with us by entering via the CGA website.  It will help the third sector demonstrate to a wider public the true nature of great governance. All you have to do is tell us how great governance helps your organisation and, thus, how it helps those whom it seeks to support. 

This expert opinion is tagged under:

  • Strategy advice
  • Trusts & foundations
  • Understanding philanthropy