Meet our Expert
Leon Ward is a 22-year-old law graduate. He is currently a Trustee of Plan UK and a delegate to Plan International’s global governing assembly. His experience includes work with government, charities and international organisations. He is an Ambassador for ‘Young Charity Trustees’ and a blogger for Civil Society.
“How would you recommend somebody like me, who finds it difficult to challenge other people on our board on what feels like pre-made decisions by the chief exec, finds a stronger voice?”
It depends on who in the charity you are dealing with, as this will alter the techniques you could use to develop a stronger and more influential voice both in the boardroom and throughout the wider organisation.
If the issue is solely with the chief executive
You need to distinguish whether the decisions that you feel are ‘pre-made’ are decisions that need to be authorised by the board.
You may want to ask whether the decision affects the charities’ money? Does it affect service delivery and thus affect those that benefit from your work? Is there any type of risk to the charity?
Whilst trustees should seek to support the operational team, your duty is primarily to act in the best interests of the charity. Sometimes this means you have to use your exclusive trustee powers and tread on the toes of the chief executive.
Ultimately, as trustees, you have the right to delay the implementation of any decisions, to challenge the Chief Executive on anything they have decided and to prevent them from doing whatever it is they propose.
However, you should also remember that in ordinary circumstances trustees should not delve into detail and should not undermine the chief executive. If you want to take issue with executives it may be worth asking for a closed session amongst trustees only; that will give you the space to raise any concerns you want to. Usually, these sessions are not minuted and so you can raise your issues anonymously and present them back to staff as ‘the board’s concerns’.
If the issue is with your chair
The chances are that there will be at least one of your trustee colleagues who shares your feelings. In these situations I find it best to sound off your issue with one of your colleagues, you may wish to do this outside of a meeting; seek their advice and together you can decide on the best action to take.
You may decide to raise this with a smaller group of trustees; if you still want to test the environment then I suggest you contact several trustees and if they have the appetite to support you, you move a motion at the next board meeting.
It is likely that the best part of the meeting to raise this is in ‘any other business’. Depending on the severity of your issue it is worthwhile knowing that as trustees, you have the power to pass a vote of no confidence in your chair and to assign a temporary replacement until you have the time to conduct a full recruitment process. If things get really serious you can seek support from the Charity Commission.
If this is with the general board process
If you feel uncomfortable with the way that your board works, then you may want to request a governance review; you can either ask the chair to select somebody to lead this or assign it to the governance subcommittee if you have one. Depending on resource and capacity you may wish to appoint an external consultant to lead the review; which makes it less awkward for you to speak out – because they will do it for you!