The Charity Commission's five-minute reads: A helpful route to more detailed trustee guidance

Earlier this month, the Charity Commission for England and Wales began a new campaign to raise awareness of its collection of "five-minute guides" for charity trustees, which it describes as "a basic toolkit for trustees who are managing the many demands of running a charity". There are currently seven such guides, each covering an issue relating to the core duties of trusteeship, ranging from safeguarding people to conflicts of interest. The guides are not new – they were first published in late 2020 – but the Commission's latest round of research established that 75% of trustees were not aware of their existence and it is therefore at pains to bring them to the attention of those who might benefit from them most.

As their name would suggest, the guides are only short – too short, in fact, to cover anything in depth, meaning that there is a risk of them oversimplifying matters or giving the impression that the role of trustee can be boiled down to a box-ticking exercise.  At least one of the guides has also caused a stir by appearing to contradict other information available from the same source – particularly as far as political activity and campaigning by charities is concerned.

However, the guides do include links to some of the Commission's more detailed guidance and may therefore serve as a useful starting point if nothing else. And this is perhaps no bad thing given that the Commission's research has also unearthed the fact that trustees are twice as likely to turn to colleagues or the internet than they are to seek help or guidance from the Commission itself (indeed, 20% of the trustees surveyed did not even know that the Commission provided help or guidance). One reason for this is that, having had its funding cut dramatically in recent years, the Commission no longer has the resources to provide guidance tailored to individual charities, meaning that there is often little point in asking for it.  It's hardly the Commission's fault, but trustees now have to rely largely on the generic guidance available from its website.

But dare we suggest another reason – namely that, since it moved over to the platform, the Commission's website has been somewhat lacking in the user-friendly stakes?  Many find the search function to be less than adequate, to the extent that they find it difficult to locate information that they know to be available, and others struggle with the absence of a comprehensive contents page or index.  Unless and until the website is improved, it will often be easier to resort to a search engine.

And so, in our view, while the five-minute guides might be brief, they are to be welcomed for providing an easier route into the harder-to-find parts of the Commission's website. After all, as the Commission's research has identified, 94% of trustees consider the Commission's guidance to be at least fairly helpful… once they have located it.

The five-minute guides, each of which is accompanied by a short, animated video, can be found here.