Thursday, December 1, 2011

Trustees and beneficiaries

I am so grateful for the Facebook discussion, part of which is outlined in the post below - I needed some inspiration for posts to this blog. This morning I have been thinking about the relationship between trustees and their beneficiaries.

Trustees are in a position of trust or responsibility for the benefit of another. In the case of the General Assembly's (GA) Executive Committee members (trustees) they have the responsibility to govern the GA for the benefit of its beneficiaries.

The GA's beneficiaries are not too clearly identified in the GA object.  Whilst it mentions congregations and societies the membership of the General Assembly is much wider than that. Members include full (congregations, fellowships, societies, minister, lay leaders, trustees), associate and honorary GA members. 

As a charity the GA must also have a broader benefit which is called 'public benefit'.  I will discuss this in a later post.

I will now digress to discuss an issue that I came across after I had left an organisation whose chair I had been for many years.  I was asked to stop being a trustee as I was doing some paid research for them, as they could find no-one else to do it.  It was a strange position to be in but interesting.  They were deciding to significantly change their object.  I had some conversations about this and asked who they had discussed this with.  They had asked staff and volunteers.  I asked if they thought that these were the people to whom they were accountable. 

I suggested that as a charity their consultation should have been with their beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries. I had no say but felt that I needed to put the case for the beneficiaries as I hoped that it had been their needs which had driven the organisation's development whilst I was on the board. 

We need to ensure that staff and volunteers are well treated and supported in their work but it is not their wishes that should drive developments.  It the needs of the beneficiaries. Sometimes, hopefully often, staff and volunteers should know the needs of their beneficiaries and if they don't they can be tasked to ask. 

To understand the needs of your beneficiaries it is helpful to be on good terms with them, to listen to what they say and not to misrepresent what they have said.  It would be interesting to ask our GA trustees who they believe their beneficiaries are and what values underpin their dealings with these beneficiaries.

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