HR, Management & leadership, Management

Is your governance up to scratch?

Patterns we've noticed from those using The Governance App.

DSC’s free Governance App has been helping Boards to assess their performance for over a year now, and the questions that over 2,000 trustees have answered as part of their reviews are starting to build a really interesting picture. 

When a Board carries out a review on the Governance App, their trustees answer 70 short questions, ten in each of seven areas, all corresponding to key themes or specific points of the Charity Governance Code. Those results are then used to drive really practical conversations about change and improvement at a Board level.  

We’ll be sharing a much more detailed breakdown soon, but in the meantime, we want to share some of the highs and lows we’re seeing. 

The good news is that trustees seem to be getting the big stuff right. The ten areas where trustees and Boards are scoring themselves the highest are: 

  • We act with honesty, trustworthiness and care 
  • We act in the best interest of our beneficiaries 
  • The charity follows the law, relevant codes and standards, and other good practice initiatives 
  • The charity is seen to have legitimacy in representing its beneficiaries and stakeholders 
  • Our operational plans and budgets are in line with the charity’s purposes, strategic aims and resources 
  • We regularly review our financial sustainability 
  • All of our decisions are consistent with the charity’s value 
  • Our values underpin our decisions and the charity’s activities 
  • Once decisions are made, the board unites behind them and accepts them as binding  
  • Trustees disclose any actual or potential conflicts and deal with these in line with the charity’s governing document and a regularly reviewed conflicts of interest policy 

All hallmarks of good organisations, as well as things that would be a concern if they weren’t being done well. 

The areas where trustees are scoring themselves lowest however are less encouraging. Of the 15 lowest scores, eight of them relate to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. 

These are four of the five lowest-scoring questions: 

  • We periodically take part in learning and/or reflection about equality, diversity and inclusion and understands our responsibilities in this area 
  • We lead the organisation’s progress towards achieving its equality, diversity and inclusion plans and targets and discuss updates on this 
  • We ensure that there are appropriate arrangements and resources in place to monitor and achieve the organisation’s equality, diversity and inclusion plans and targets 
  • Our approach to equality, diversity and inclusion is supported by appropriate plans, policies, milestones, targets and timelines 

As disappointing as this is, knowing there’s a problem and discussing it together as a Board is the first step to making improvements, and that’s the whole point of the Governance App. The results each individual Board gets ranks their responses by average score, and show the range in scores between trustees (so that differences of opinion show up and can be discussed), so it’s easy to see where you’re performing and where to put your efforts in improving.  

And on that note, there seems to be some pretty low-hanging fruit in terms of making your governance better.  

Within the lowest-scored questions, there are some things that should be really easy for most Boards to address:

  • We publish the process for setting the remuneration of any senior staff, and their remuneration levels, on the charity’s websites and in its annual report 
  • We know what we’d do if the charity wasn’t needed anymore or become unviable 
  • We get regular reports on the positive and negative feedback and complaints given to the charity 
  • We speak to stakeholders about significant changes to the charity’s services or policies 
  • We regularly evaluate the difference the charity is making 

These questions all fall into the lowest 15 out of 70 questions, and should all be possible with minimal discussion and planning at Board level. 

The easiest low-scoring question to improve on? Well, it has to be this one: 

  • The board reviews its own performance every year, including that of the chair 

Just get yourself and your fellow trustees registered on the Governance App, carry out a review, and then – as many of our first users are starting to do – carry out another review a year later to get accurate, evidence-based information on your improved performance!