Governance Essentials

Make sure you’re playing by the rules…
Deciding to take on a community group, or being involved in one can sound like a great idea at the outset…you’re doing your bit for the local community, you’re going to put your time to great use, and hopefully you’re going to make a difference for the better….
But what of all the logistics? Do you know of the rules and regulations you need to work to? Are you confident you’re running the group properly? These areas can be a mine field but here we hope to help guide you.

Committees, Directors, Trustees
Before you set up a new group, you need to decide who is going to manage it. Usually, a new group will distribute key responsibilities to a committee or board of directors, with between 6-10 people.
The key role of this committee is to manage the group’s affairs on behalf of the members. The committee will stand by its rules made as a constitution, and meet regularly to make necessary decisions for the group. They will also produce an annual report, and hold an annual AGM, to assign new members, and analyse the group’s finances over that year.
Legal Responsibilities
There are a few things you need to be aware of, once your governing body has been established. You need to make sure your committee members take their role seriously, as they could be personally liable if the group loses out with money in some way.
The group is no individual’s responsibility, although there may be board members who have specific tasks. The group is run by the whole board.
Membership and Roles
The exact criteria for board membership and how to choose members will be set up by your committee. This is usually done in the annual AGM by election.
Sometimes new members can be brought in between AGMs, this is called Co-option. This process will happen if you lose a member of your committee.
Typically, a committee will have 3 members with specific tasks; a chair, treasurer, and secretary. Their main roles are:
Chair: The role of a chair is to manage the group, and supervise the senior members. The chair acts as a figurehead, and a point of contact for the outside world. So anyone who has any queries and wants to speak to your group, should speak to the chair.
Treasurer: Manages the group’s finances, prepares budgets, and payments.
Secretary: Handles correspondence, takes minutes after meetings, and maintains membership records.
A constitution is a written document, which will outline plans and will explain clearly the objectives of the group. This is important so all members understand exactly what they are working towards, and are all on the same path. This will allow your group to be able to then sort out what activities need to be carried out, and how the group will be managed. Once written up, a constitution is very important, as it means everyone fully understands what the group is setting out to achieve, and how members plan to do it.
Some key points a constitution will contain are:
Objectives of the group
Powers– These are what your group can legally do to carry out its objectives
Membership– defines who is eligible to be a member of the group
Board/committee– who is who, and how new members are elected
Once drawn up, members on the board/committee will sign the constitution, after agreeing on its contents. This can then be used to refer back to. It is a legal document which your group must abide by.
Charity Registration
Groups who meet the Charity Commission criteria could benefit from becoming a charity. If you meet the criteria it’s not really a matter of choice, but if you don’t, you can’t register as a charity.
Some of the criteria:
• The objectives of your group (in your constitution) are charitable, as defined by the Charity Commission
• Your group must exist for the public’s benefit
• Your group income from all sources is over £5000 per year
Once you are registered, you must always inform the Charity Commission of any changes you make in your constitution, sometimes you need their approval too.
Charity registration can be really beneficial if your group fits the criteria, as it improves your public images, and provides benefits in terms of tax and VAT.
Top Tips for Governing Bodies
Before you become a board member, make sure you know exactly what will be required from you in your role, so you can fully commit to it. It is also important to get to know your organisation, understand why meetings take place at certain times, and what decisions need to be made. If at any time you don’t understand, you should always ask questions before it’s too late.
Stick to your goals, and don’t let your group go off course, remember why you are all there and what you want to achieve. Stay motivated!
Make sure you get to grips with the group’s finances, although this is the role of the treasurer, it is important all members have a good understanding of the group’s financial status. Lastly make sure you keep up to date with changes in the law, as this can effect legal responsibilities, and can sometimes effect your group suddenly, if not checked.
Make good collective decisions with your board and take responsibilities seriously!
There are many rewards for being involved in running community groups or charities -just make sure you don’t oversee the fundamentals and then you can concentrate on enjoying them!
Good Luck. We hope that this free resource from The Skipton Building Society helps you. This pack has been created in association with social enterprise consultant, Jo Boardman.