The idea of paying trustees isn’t all bad…
The Lord Hodgson review of the Charities Act 2006 brings some interesting recommendations to a sector which has undergone extensive modernisation.
I watched Twitter closely to see the sector’s professionals’ reactions to the recommendations. One proposal that received a lot of interest was that larger (income over £1 million) charities should be able to pay trustees without permission from the Charity Commission. Most comments about this were negative. Interestingly, the review’s research highlights that 47 per cent of younger people, and 22 per cent of over-65s, thought they should be paid.
If charities decide to remunerate trustees, I would favour an attendance allowance. I used to receive such an allowance when I was co-opted onto a local government scrutiny panel. This meant I could sacrifice my ordinary employment for a few days in order to contribute. My payment was agreed and authorised by scrutiny officers and the chair of the panel.
An attendance allowance would make participation at board level easier for people like me; people who have to rely on student finance and a poorly paid job. Also, some organisations who work with specific groups of people – for instance, young offenders – want to include young people on their boards, but these young people rely on their jobs for economic survival.In some cases young people also contribute to the wider household income. This isn’t factored in when board membership is considered.
It remains a simple fact that not all people can afford to give up their time. This doesn’t mean they are any less capable or deserving of being a trustee. There are some weeks where I work 20-30 hours on both my organisations and sacrifice paid work for my duties. I currently feel my trusteeships will be of greater benefit to me, but that future reward doesn’t help me make ends meet in the present.
18-24s represent 12 per cent of the entire UK population but only make up 0.5 per cent of charity trustees – part of that barrier is the cost. Moreover, an attendance allowance would mean that trustees have more financial flexibility to sign up to expensive organisations, publications and conferences. They are often expected to pay the costs themselves in return for discussions, training and opportunities that also benefit their organisation.
Wealthier trustees could accept the allowance, donate it back to the charity and their organisation could claim the gift-aid back on that payment. I know some trustees do this with their expenses. Some could just reject it all together.
As of yet I haven’t completely made my mind up. It is argued that the sector is and should remain voluntary and that trustees know what they’re signing up to. There is also thinking that paying trustees is a solution to a non existent problem. One also questions the role of the Commission – not needing permission may weaken it’s overall role. Also, an allowance determined by performance may result in complications of the relationship dynamics between trustees and their chairs.
We should also be wary of blurring the boundaries of a trustee’s role of oversight and the executive role that should belong to staff. Attendance at meetings is sufficient for local government and may suffice for charities. We should be aware that small charities already struggle to attract trustees. If larger ones are able to pay then this may increase that difficulty and of course add to the overall cost of searching for and recruiting trustees.
Either way, the choice should be left to the organisations themselves. A consultation process should seek the views of the organisation’s staff and supporters to inform the board’s thinking. The discussion is just beginning.