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Trustees Week – shining a spotlight on the role and contribution of trustees

Trustees Week is a tremendous opportunity to celebrate and promote the contribution that trustees can make to an organisation.  At the Barrow Cadbury Trust we believe that governance is the underpinning which makes or breaks any organisation.  For this reason we pay a great deal of attention to making sure our governance arrangements are robust and fit for delivering our charitable purpose.  In our case our governing body is a Board of Trustees largely drawn from direct descendants of Barrow and Geraldine Cadbury, our founders. Since 2009 the Board has also included some non-family members, recruited for particular skills or experience but always underpinned by the same values base.

Board functions and roles

Our Board has several key roles which suit and enhance our model of working.  As well as the usual legal, financial and compliance responsibilities common to all charity trustees, our Board’s key functions are in strategic planning, scrutiny and the interrogation of impact.  We have a Chair (currently Helen Cadbury) and lead trustees for each programme of work as well as for audit, risk and human resources.  Their role is to advise and support but also to challenge staff.

Meeting structure

The Board meets for a full day every quarter and at least once a year has an evening session with no staff present.  Every quarter trustees vist a couple of the organisations we support to hear at first-hand about their work, problems and progress.  There are always external speakers at part of the board meeting too.

The board has only one standing sub-committee, the Investment Management Committee, which has close oversight of our investments and social investments and is currently chaired by Anna Southall.  It reports quarterly to the full Board.

Board and staff responsibilities

Being a trustee is a big responsibility and is unpaid voluntary service.  As a staff team we therefore consider it very important to service the board well and make the task as stress free as possible.  Our board members are very generous with their time and often represent the Trust at external events. Family members are sometimes asked to speak about family and values-driven philanthropy, both in the UK and overseas.

Ethics, principles and appraisal

Our board brings an ethical lens to every area of its work, whether as a Living Wage employer or in its approach to ethical and responsible investment.  This year we will be paying special attention to the Sustainable Development Goals and what they mean for our work.  Trustees are expected to abide by the Nolan principles of public life – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership – and to be transparent in their declarations of any conflicts of interests arising in the course of their duties.  Their Register of Conflicts is available for public inspection and each conflict is graded for its level of seriousness and appropriate action arising.  All trustees are appraised annually by the Chair, who is appraised by the lead trustee for human resources.

Duration of trusteeships

Unusually, there is no maximum period of trusteeship.  While many in the charity sector believe in maximum terms of trusteeship, we find here that there is a great benefit in having long-standing trustees.  As a trust, we rarely work on a short term basis and our governance arrangements enable us to take things on ‘for the long haul’.  Working as we do on structural issues and in collaborations, we find the dual factors of a shared value base and long-term view are vital.

Hats off to our trustees

The staff team are hugely appreciative of our trustees.  They are supportive, challenging, committed and mission-driven. We would like to say a big thank you to them for all their hard work in Trustee’s Week.