by Murray Watt
The current travails and revelations surrounding the conduct of some staff at Oxfam demonstrates the haste with which the reputation of a major charitable organization with a long history of providing much-needed aid in some of the most troubled spaces on the planet has taken quite a nose-dive. Whilst the circumstances are very different, I am also reminded of the collapse of Kids Company and the warnings that should have precipitated on charities and the third sector.
The modern world is typified by news and opinion being immediate, sensational and often inaccurate or at best, misleading. In the face of such immediacy, the most useful attributes of any organization, and in particular charitable organizations, are its credibility and integrity. These attributes are best protected through good governance. That said, we should also be aware that leading experts have warned us that charitable boards in Northern Ireland may well lack the expertise and even understanding of the principles of good governance and are therefore placing themselves at risk.
Yes, the current news focus is on Oxfam, but it can’t have escaped our notice that this story impacts on the rest of the charitable sector, abroad and at home. We might also take time to remember that media attention has been given to local charities calling their integrity and their reputations into question. So my attention and hopefully yours will be drawn again to the importance of good governance.
Those of us who have been reporting to the charity regulator in Northern Ireland, many for the first time, will be thinking about the timeliness of audit and examination, of annual reports and of Annual General Meetings; and so should every other group and charitable organization out there. As a charity ourselves, and as a ‘helper group’ for the Charity Commission for NI, Supporting Communities has been providing advice and support to a large number of groups across Northern Ireland and particularly those groups who lease community bases from the Housing Executive and those reporting to the Commission for the first time in January 2018. As partners of other groups in the sector on the Developing Governance Group we are supporting a further round of workshops focussing on the reporting requirements and we are also developing an accredited Corporate Governance training course in association with Open College Network (OCN) NI which we hope to launch in the coming months.
I would urge all of you, whether you are a Chairperson, secretary or committee member to make sure you and your fellow trustees place good governance at the forefront of your work; myself and my colleagues at Supporting Communities are more than happy to provide you with the means to do just that.