Respecting TRUST

Deirdre Garvey, Chief Executive Officer of The Wheel, writes on trust in the community, voluntary and charity sector.

Our sector has been rocked over the last few months and there has been a lot of finger-pointing in the wake of the crises that has engulfed us.

The media has pointed out shocking failures of governance and a lack of transparency in two of our largest charities. Members of the Public Accounts Committee have held the leadership of those organisations to account for governance failures. Opposition parties have blamed government for its failure to fully implement the Charities Act. Even in our own sector, there are those who blame the crises on ‘one or two rotten apples’.But can we honestly say that our organisations are paragons of transparency and good governance? Charitable organisations control public resources for the public benefit and the people who control them are called ‘trustees’ _ people who are trusted. But, as in any walk of life, trust must be respected and the maintenance of trust requires openness and honesty.

And that means that we should be as open as we are able to be in our work. Anything less is to show disrespect for the trust the public places in us. And there are plenty of ways that we can demonstrate that openness.

Our other main priority at the moment is developing the new Register of Charities, which will be a critical part of the new regulatory system. The Charities Act allows the approximately 8,000 charities that are already registered with the Revenue Commissioners for charitable tax exemption to be automatically placed on this Register. Once we have developed our registration system, we will be asking these charities to verify their data to ensure that we have the information we need to complete their automatic registration.

Has every member of your board attended governance training? Is your organisation in compliance with the Governance Code and the Statement of Recommended practice for Financial Reporting by Charities (SORP), or at least ‘SORP-lite’ (if you are a small organisation)? If you are fundraising from the public, have you signed up to the Statement of Guiding Principles for Fundraising? Have you published your annual accounts on your website?

Perhaps when we look back on this time we will see it as a watershed moment, when we understood that good enough is not enough. Charities cannot operate without the public’s trust. As guardians of that trust we have to do everything in our power to honour the trust the public have placed in us by adopting the very highest standards of governance and transparency. Anything less would be a dereliction of duty.

This piece was originally written for the Spring edition 2014 of Be The Change magazine.

Written on 7 Nov, 2014

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