Monday, March 5, 2012

Membership Charities

The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches is a membership charity - as I wrote in my previous post this is much like a commercial company which has directors (trustees) and shareholders (members). We are not alone in being a membership charity which does not detail the rights and responsibilities of its members. It is unfortunate that a group reporting to the Executive Committee late last year recommended that the GA's governing document (constitution) did not need amending. Not only is the object confusing but also, whilst it says how members come into being, it does not say what they can and cannot do. 

The Charity Commission wrote about Membership Charities back in 2004 and a summary of the report can be found here.  The recommendations for trustees of charities and for members are below

Recommendations for charity trustees

Trustees should:
  • Pay careful attention to the governance arrangements that relate to the charity’s members, in particular:
  • That the rights of each different type of member and their role within the charity are clearly set out;
  • That the role of corporate members is fully understood;
  • That effective means of communication with all members are in place;
  • That the membership list is kept up-to-date;
  • That the governance arrangements are regularly reviewed, including the number of members they have and the level at which a quorum is set;
  • Consider whether it is appropriate to include a clause in their governing document setting out the respective roles and responsibilities of members and consider whether any additional procedural documents would be beneficial;
  • Consider whether their membership is truly representative of the group it is designed to serve and, if not, consider ways of reaching those that are excluded;
  • Be aware of the potential benefits of mediation and, where appropriate, consider whether it might be a useful tool for resolving a disagreement within the charity.

Recommendations for charity members

Charity members should: 

  • Ensure that the charity clearly explains what the membership role entails, including the rights and responsibilities which accompany the role;
  • Exercise their right to vote in the interests of the charity for which they are a member;
  • Abide by decisions that are taken fairly and within the rules of the charity.

At the current moment we seem to have a mismatch of expectations about the roles and responsibilities of members and trustees alike: this needs sorting out .

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