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Trustees must act ethically or step down says OSCR chief

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Trustees who allow their charity's reputation to be tarnished by bad fundraising practise should be held responsible

Trustees should quit their role if they fail to protect their charity’s reputation the chief executive of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) has said.

Speaking at the Scottish Fundraising Conference in Glasgow, David Robb said how a charity is valued was crucial to its success and warned if that deteriorates under the watch of a trustee the regulator would consider it a “dereliction of duty”.

Robb, who will have led the regulator for five years as of later this month, said fundraising had been “in the minds” of the sector for the past 18 months since it started hitting the headlines of the tabloid newspapers.

David Robb

The ethical core of the charity sector is just far too precious to be rented out and if trustees are not the keepers of that ethical flame then maybe they shouldn’t be trustees

David Robb

However instead of blaming fundraisers he declared it trustees’ responsibilities to make sure that the brand of their charity isn’t tarnished.

“The ethical core of the charity sector is just far too precious to be rented out and if trustees are not the keepers of that ethical flame then maybe they shouldn’t be trustees,” Robb said, while speaking to an audience of both fundraisers and trustees.

“For trustees not to have their eye on that ball we would argue that would be some sort of dereliction of duty.

“Trustees should hold their executives to account. Those working in a charity ought to feel scrutinised by their trustees.

“Trustees need to understand what is being done in their name and on their watch because that crucial interface between supporters and charity fundraisers, whether employed by the charity or at arms-length, creates a charity’s reputation.

“That is a charity’s most valuable asset and trustee’s job is to steward and safeguard the charity’s assets.”

In reference to the new fundraising regulation arrangements in Scotland, the OSCR boss said that any problems which arise such as complaints should be “treated as a gift”.

“If you get feedback from unhappy customers telling you that something has happened to them that they didn’t enjoy then that is your opportunity to put things right.

“It is crucial feedback, it is not something you just need to grit your teeth and go into denial about.

“It is a trustee’s job to make sure there is a complaints process in place, that the feedback is dealt with and it is feeding improvement.

“The best self-regulation is for charities to fix the problems themselves without reference to an external regulator. It is in no one’s interest for things to be escalated beyond the frontline.”

Robb was speaking at the Working with trustees panel session at the conference on Tuesday.

The attentions of his fellow panel members were later turned by an audience question about whether there should be an expectation on trustees to donate to their charity.

Andy Kerr, chief executive of Sense Scotland, said he was against any pressure being put on trustees.

“We get their time and effort and if they do more then all is well and good,” he said.

Virginia Anderson, the head of fundraising at Bobath Scotland, said trustees shouldn’t be able to buy a place on a board but she was all for asking them to donate.

“If they put their money where their mouth is it’s much easier for them to go out and say 'I’m supporting this cause – I want you to join me’,” Anderson said.

Daniel Fluskey, the head of policy and research at the Institute of Fundraising, who is also a trustee at children’s hospice Haven House, said no one size model fits all.

“There isn’t an expectation [at Haven House] that you have to give a certain amount but there is an expectation that you would support the organisation, whether that be going to a volunteer appreciation day or to drinks with major donors.

“I don’t think it should ever be expected that everybody gives but you would want to see some element of support and commitment.”

Daniel Fluskey from the Institute of Fundraising spoke to TFN's Paul Cardwell at the conference on the work it's doing to support trustees.