Wherever we look – well, perhaps not quite wherever we look – coronavirus seems to be at the top of the charity menu.
Whether it’s the CIOF, NCVO, CAF or NPC, helpful briefing and strategy documents are flowing out, advising us all on how we should be handling the coronavirus now and what we should be planning for when it is over. All this advice is valuable and enables us to concentrate on what is undoubtedly most people’s key issue for the moment.
Then at the end of last week, the Charity Commission’s weekly summary arrived and with it the Commission’s report into The Royal National Institute of Blind People and RNIB Charity. It does not make for comfortable reading – a charity which is over 150 years old where, according to the report, the Board of Trustees failed to understand the breadth and scale of the services that it was overseeing and the executive ignored or downplayed reports by Ofsted and CQC.
This has nothing to do with coronavirus or the pressures the epidemic has created: it’s about the normal, straightforward procedures that all of us – Trustees, staff and volunteers alike – are supposed to follow as part of the normal, day-to-day running of any charity.
It would be reasonable to think that, following the recent problems experienced by Oxfam and the British Red Cross, charity Trustees and senior executives across the UK would be on top of these challenges, especially in a large charity whether there are many more staff and volunteers to cope with the strains and stresses of running a busy operation than there are in the typical small local or regional charities with which Minerva works. But apparently not.
It is hardly surprising that charities at all levels run into problems when an epidemic occurs if they cannot get the basics right at times when there is no epidemic. In 2018, 666 charities in the UK closed down, up 27% from the previous year.
We should make sure that this is not a precedent for the future. Charities which cannot get governance, safeguarding and other key procedures right are unlikely to be effective, or indeed survive, even without a coronavirus epidemic.