Managing Trustees guidance on Governance in light of Covid-19
Managing Trustees – Covid-19 Pandemic Guidance
Last updated 11.06.20
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.
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.
2. Making decisions where virtual meetings are not possible
Whilst Managing Trustees have the ability to continue meeting on a virtual basis (i.e. using technology-enabled meetings), there may be some situations where those involved do not have access to technology or the skills to use it so that it is of benefit to them. In this scenario it would mean that meetings cannot take place in any format, be that in person or through the use of technology, while church buildings remain closed or perhaps even when the building reopens if there are Managing Trustees in a vulnerable group. In making decisions, it is important that all Trustees are both invited and have the ability to participate in the decision-making.
In circumstances where a decision needs to be made urgently outside a normal Church Council/Circuit meeting, the proposal could be sent to all Managing Trustees by email or by being physically delivered to those Managing Trustees, who do not have access to or who are not comfortable with using technology. Each trustee then has the option to reply by email or post, either agreeing with the proposal or disagreeing, in the same way they would at a formal meeting. By proceeding in this manner it should ensure that there is sufficient evidence of the Managing Trustees’ collective decision on the proposal which can then be reported to and formally minuted at the next formal meeting.
However, when making urgent decisions in this way, it should only be used for business that is deemed ‘essential’.
In the future, Managing Trustees may want to consider what routine business could be delegated to a smaller group of trustees to allow flexibility and effective decision making of Church business. It is emphasised that this guidance relates to routine matters only: Managing Trustees must retain collective responsibility for major decisions affecting the Church such as property acquisition and disposals, agreeing the budget and signing-off the annual account
3. 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