Working for many years with charity trustees I long ago concluded (controversially) that the trustees that really care for their beneficiaries are the trustees that also care that the governance of their charity is as excellent as possible. Those trustees that dismiss governance as merely a 'necessary evil' - doing as little possible by way of risk assessments, filing, minutes, rigorous trustee recruitment and ongoing training and reviews - are often those that are in their trustee role primarily for their own enjoyment, with the best interests of their beneficiaries not necessarily at the forefront of their priorities.
Today’s Charity Commission on Richmond Psychosocial Foundation International (RPFI) report appears to support that. RPFI is a charity that operates a residential home providing care for adults recovering from mental health issues and adolescents with complex emotional needs. The Commission's inquiry has found that the former trustees of RPFI were responsible for misconduct and mismanagement and that they:
- failed to comply with the law so that RPFI’s beneficiaries were exposed to 'significant avoidable harm', contributing to a beneficiary's death
- failed in their duty to provide leadership and oversight of RPFI
- were over-reliant on the former chair who acted in breach of good governance requirements
- took advice from the charity’s founder which was, according to the coroner, 'followed by RPFI staff without [the founder] ever meeting or having knowledge of the residents'
- failed to properly manage the RPFI's resources, including by failing to file annual accounts on time
- failed to adequately manage RPFI’s banking services, which potentially placed the charity’s funds at undue risk
This inquiry and the sad death in May 2016, of a young woman, Sophie Bennett, who took her own life whilst in the RPFI’s care, comes as a timely warning that rigorous, proactive governance, following best practise, isn't a 'necessary evil', but instead is a way for trustees to demonstrate just how much they care about their charity's beneficiaries.
The charity has a responsibility to provide a safe environment for its beneficiaries, staff and volunteers and are required to ensure beneficiaries are protected from harm. From the evidence seen by the Inquiry, the Commission concludes that the former trustees failed to carry out their duties and responsibilities as trustees. They were collectively responsible for, and/or contributed to and/or facilitated the misconduct and or mismanagement in the charity by failing to provide sufficient leadership and oversight of the charity.