NCVO: Leaders of all charities can learn lessons from RNIB failings

All charity leaders are being urged by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) to ensure they learn from a raft of failings highlighted in a damning Charity Commission report into the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Last week the regulator criticised the RNIB for safeguarding failures of children at the charity’s Pears Centre children’s home, which has since closed.

The regulator’s report also criticised the charity’s “ineffective and dysfunctional governance and oversight”.

The Charity Commission then sent an alert to large charities on the importance of transparent and accountable governance. This was aimed at charities with an income over £9m a year, with a complex governance and management structure as well as providing frontline services.

But the NCVO has said that the RNIB’s case highlights issues “that all charity trustees are likely to want to reflect on as they are essential to effective governance and ensuring their charity is operating effectively and in line with its values”.

Charities that are growing and taking on more services should be particularly vigilant that governance standards do not slip, said the NCVO.

“Rapid growth can easily lead to structures involving multiple entities and several boards evolving over time,” it added.

“Without regular review this can develop in a way that is possibly unplanned, ending up with complex or messy governance arrangements, a lack of understanding of respective roles and accountability. In turn that can mean weak oversight by a parent charity and a lack of overall alignment with the charity strategy or purpose.”

In addition, charities are advised to carry out a “regular skills audit” of their trustee board, and reduce the number of elected trustees and have an increased focus on appointing members based on their skills.

Among the concerns raised by the Charity Commission into the RNIB was that the trustee committee meant to oversee its regulated homes did not meet for 10 months. The regulator’s chief executive Helen Stephenson said it was “one of the worst examples we have uncovered of poor governance and oversight having a direct impact on vulnerable people”.

The RNIB has pledged to continue implementing the Commission’s recommendations for reform.

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