Managing Trustees guidance on Governance in light of Covid-19
Managing Trustees – COVID-19 Pandemic Guidance
Charity law and the finer detail of the Church’s Standing Orders may not be the average Managing Trustee’s top priority at the moment. That is, of course, understandable. But before you go throwing CPD out the window altogether, be sure to read our practical tips on good charity governance for Church Councils, Circuit Meetings and District Policy Committees at a time of crisis.
There is currently a restriction on public gatherings of more than two people. Clearly this presents challenges to all organisations wanting to continue to conduct their business through meetings of people making decisions, including ourselves where conferring and discernment are an important part of the way we work.
Whilst the restrictions clearly prohibits normal ‘physical’ meetings of people gathering together in one place, meetings can continue supported by IT to enable people to meet ‘virtually’, for example, by using telephone conference calls or video conferencing.
CPD was written in a time when e-enabled meetings could not have been anticipated. However, the constitution does not prevent virtual meetings from happening. In addition, the Charity Commission in its guidance is encouraging charities to be flexible in their approach to work to allow business to continue as ‘normally’ as possible.
Accordingly, you are able and encouraged to continue to hold meetings on this virtual basis. The Methodist Council conducted their recent meeting virtually with 60+ participants. Recommended video conferencing platforms include Microsoft Teams and Zoom, the latter we are finding to be the best particularly for meetings with larger groups of participants. The URC has produced guidance on using Zoom securely, which can be accessed here.
Virtual meetings should be conducted in very much the same way as you would normally. Items will be discussed, conferred upon and then agreed. Only those participants to the meeting will take part in voting (our CPD does not allow for proxy voting). Clearly, not all participants being in the same room presents challenges for Chairs and there needs to be good discipline during the meeting such as ‘muting’ microphones when not speaking and ‘raising hands’ to indicate when participants want to speak. Further advice on running virtual meetings and meeting etiquette can be found here.
However, it is important that running virtual meetings should not preclude any participants who are not so technically engaged and savvy, or do not have an internet connection, for example. Where possible allowances should be made for such people, for example, accessing meetings by telephone or supplying IT equipment.
The Charity Commission’s COVID-19 Guidance seeks to reassure trustees that it will overlook small procedural oversights in these challenging times. Making the best possible decisions is currently more important than the means by which you make them. Just be sure to keep a clear record of any decisions made so that they can be later evidenced and justified as necessary.
- Compliance matters
Like many organisations, the Charity Commission is coping with increased demand. It has reassured trustees that it will adopt a ‘flexible and pragmatic approach,’ to regulation in the coming months.
For example, registered Methodist charities can request an extension on submitting their annual returns. The Commission has stated that Serious Incident Reports are to be made as normal, but do not expect a quick reply given the circumstances. Contact the Conference for Guidance on Reporting Serious Incidents.
Regulators understand that continuing as usual will not win them any friends. The Information Commissioner’s Office has recognised that charities’ usual standards of compliance with data protection law may dip while the Fundraising Regulator has encouraged charities to continue all but face to face fundraising, including events.
OSCR, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, has also published an update which you can read here.
This is likely to be a difficult time financially for local Churches, Circuits and Districts, with typical sources of income such as lettings and offerings collected during worship drying up. Methodist Insurance has confirmed that there is no cover under the ‘business interruption,’ section of a Church’s insurance policy for any loss of revenue and additional costs incurred due to the virus.
Emergencies such as this are what reserves and unrestricted funds at banks, the CFB or TMCP are for. You may wish to use them to offset losses in income. Consider ‘undesignating,’ designated funds so that money can be diverted to the General Church Fund if reserves are low.
Local Churches do still have to pay essential bills such as the Circuit Assessment. Get in touch with your Circuit Steward(s) if the virus is likely to impact your ability to pay the next in May. Suggest deferring the payment, and perhaps remind them that in assessing your contribution, they should take into account your ‘needs and ability to pay,’ (515(3)).
If your church or circuit has sufficient reserves and is relatively unaffected financially by the virus, you may wish to use your Benevolence Fund to assist other local charities, provided that their charitable purposes aren’t contrary to those of the Methodist Church.
If your congregation is keen to support your Church or Circuit financially in these difficult and uncertain times, consider encouraging donations by means of direct debit for the foreseeable future.
With thanks to the members of the ‘Methodists Online,’ Facebook group for their questions and suggestions.
For queries about this guidance, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org