Wednesday, 14 June 2017

RSPCA - no charity is too big to get into trouble

Following the loss of their chief executive officer last week, the RSPCA is coming under fire from the Charity Commission, which is warning the charity that it needs to urgently improve its governance or face regulatory action.

The full story of what is happening at one of Britain's biggest charities can be found at Civil Society News, but in short it is clear that the governance of the organisation is falling below expected standards.

It appears that the charity have been trying to grapple with its problems, having recently commissioned a review in order 'to ensure that the governance structure is fit for purpose and best placed to face the challenges of the future.'

The review, undertaken on behalf of the society by Crowe Clarke Whitehall LLP, has some interesting conclusions that throw light on the difficulties all organisations experience in managing change.

  • The Society is facing much change and with any change effort there are often many sensitivities and tensions to be aware of. 
  • It is clear from those we interviewed and spoke to that this Governance Review has generated high expectations and perhaps some nervousness.
  • There is a perception that there has been little constructive action and poor follow through on past initiatives.
  • Individuals must be ready to do this (draw a line under the perceived problems of the past) and move on, focusing on building the “modern governance structure”. 
  • This requires people to look forward rather than at the past and to put aside the issues of the past. 
  • The tone at the top is very important and if the Society is to really benefit from this review Council must work together cohesively and accept differences of opinion, build trust and respect amongst its members and with management.

In conducting the review, the consultants engaged with the Society's Trustees around the Hallmarks of an Effective Charity, the Charity Commission guidance that 'sets out the standards that will help trustees to improve the effectiveness of their charity.

The six hallmarks are:

  1. Clear about its purposes and direction - An effective charity is clear about its purposes, mission and values and uses them to direct all aspects of its work.
  2.  A strong board - An effective charity is run by a clearly identifiable board or trustee body that has the right balance of skills and experience, acts in the best interests of the charity and its beneficiaries, understands its responsibilities and has systems in place to exercise them properly.
  3. Fit for purpose - The structure, policies and procedures of an effective charity enable it to achieve its purposes and mission and deliver its services efficiently.
  4. Learning and improving - An effective charity is always seeking to improve its performance and efficiency, and to learn new and better ways of delivering its purposes. A charity’s assessment of its performance, and of the impact and outcomes of its work, will feed into its planning processes and will influence its future direction.
  5. Financially sound and prudent - An effective charity has the financial and other resources needed to deliver its purposes and mission, and controls and uses them so as to achieve its potential.
  6. Accountable and transparent - An effective charity is accountable to the public and others with an interest in the charity in a way that is transparent and understandable.

The Society's Trustees and senior leadership team were asked to score the Society against the Hallmarks, and this was followed up by a survey of the Society's membership who were asked to score their perceptions of the charities performance against key assertions from the Hallmarks.

The importance of having yardsticks or 'Hallmarks' against which to self assess performance is clear. and PAVO has developed its own organisational 'Health Check' - the Here and Now tool - which can provide a focus for reflection around organisational governance, finance, planning,strategy and communications.

The moral of this story is that all organisations - whatever their size - are well advised to reflect on their performance, and preferably before the wheels start coming off the waggon...

If you would like to talk to PAVO about undertaking the Here and Now tool within your organisation, contact our development team on 01597 822 191

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