20. Collective decision making and confusion about membership of the committee

How can we avoid drifting into a position where it isn’t clear who is actually on the committee or not?

There can be lack of clarity about who the committee are for a number of reasons. The commonest are;
  • the organisation has a culture of collectivism and democratic participation in which everyone feels free to attend important meetings and put their point of view and take part in the decision making.
  • for a variety of reasons more than one important committee exists, they lack clear remits and the committees then begin to compete for power. For instance; a committee may be set up to look at the business plan – but may end up having a larger say in the organisations future direction than the main committee.

Does it really matter if everyone takes part in decision making?

No, provided that’s what the constitution says should happen. If you are not a registered charity then you are free to have collective decision making. It’s always worth making something this fundamental clear in you constitution.

Can we have collective decision making if we are a charity?

This is a tricky question because strictly the answer is ‘no’, because ‘trustees’ should not benefit from their trust. In other words you cannot be paid by the charity you are a trustee of. If you are already a charity you should read your constitution carefully. There may be clauses allowing: a. limited benefits (such as the organisation paying for one-off services) b. the Head of Staff to be a trustee. c. a number of staff to be trustees with conditions (generally the condition is that they should not be in the majority on the committee and they should avoid conflicts of interest). d. a number of users (beneficiaries/ customers) to be on the committee with conditions (generally similar conditions to c above). Its worth bearing in mind that it’s a lot easier to negotiate this with the Charity Commission when you first register rather than trying to do it retrospectively. In a few cases the Charity COmmission has agreed substantial numbers of paid staff can make up the committee. Don’t assume that you are in breach of the law or your constitution until you have carefully read your constitution.

There is strong tradition of staff and volunteers attending the committee meetings and taking a full part. How can we stop it? We have some difficult decisions to make soon.

Don’t ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’. It’s fine to involve everyone in decision making provided staff and others understand that is the management committee members/ trustees (whatever you call them) who have the ultimate say – because they are the ones who are ultimately legally responsible.

But how do we get that idea across to staff and volunteers and members who turn up to meetings?

You could try a number of tactics; Try changing the format of the meetings to introduce a ‘management committee only’ section of the meeting at the end. Make sure that the annual return (to the charity commission) is on the agenda each year. This is an opportunity to make it clear who the management committee members/trustees actually are.

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A Word About Words

This site is aimed at those who govern (control) small organisations - whether they are charities, companies, both or neither. Those who govern them may be called a variety of names. We have chosen to use mainly 'management committee' and occasionally 'committee member' or 'trustee'. more...
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