IMHO : Monthly Meeting Trustees

Following are two articles I have written recently advocating that Monthly Meeting Trustees should be a small body with few duties other than to keep a careful watch over the activities of the Monthly Meeting, report to the Charity Commission, and offer advice when they see fit.

The first article is clearer and better written. It was drafted with a view to submitting it to the Quaker journal "The Friend".

The second includes more detail and examples. It was hastily written as a possible submission to my Monthly Meeting.

In my opinion (and though Iím no legal expert I have some good experience) Quaker Stewardship Committee (QSC) is leading the Society mistakenly into fundamental change that is outwith that part of Gospel Order which has it that all members are entitled to take a decisive part in their Monthly Meeting decision making.

It has been agreed (and I accept) that each Monthly Meeting (MM) needs to register with the Charity Commission (CC). QSC has produced a model or template Monthly Meeting Governing Document. QSC has discussed the template with the Commission and it has been agreed. But in my view the CC is not concerned with the structure and procedures a Governing Document defines, but only with its soundness as a basis for what they are interested in, namely an annual assurance that the charity is acting properly. This means it runs its financial and property management affairs prudently and soundly, and that it is legally working towards its declared aims and not beyond them. The structure by which it achieves this is not at issue.

QSC seems to have accepted the misconception that the trustees must Ďruní the monthly meeting. In my MM the existing General Committee (more commonly a "Finance and Property Committee") is to have trusteeship added to its existing responsibilities. In fact its remit is to be extended to include matters such as child protection. All committees and even local meetings are to become merely delegated bodies under the committee. Whereas in the past it was clearly subject to MMís policy, it is now to have the power to do anything it (and not necessarily MM in session) regards as furthering the Society's objects.

My concern I that the GD gives too much power to the Trustees as against that of the MM, especailly if the trustee role is added to an already powerful committee.

In my MM I first argued that we should amend the GD to emphasise that Trustees were to heed the discernment of MM. This was rejected as it is hoped all MMs will adopt the template GD unaltered (except to change the MM name). However it was agreed that we should write Terms of Reference for Trustees of Reference for our trustees that attempt to make them responsive to MMís discernent (based on BYM Trusteesí Terms of Reference that aim to make them conform to MfS policy and priorities). Despite my reservations about the one-committee model I played a leading part in drafting such Terms of Reference.

But the essence of trusteeship is that they have control. Trustees will be able to claim that their legal responsibilities must over-ride their MMís wishes. An example of the sort of dispute that might arise would be if one body wanted to sell a meeting house and the other did not. I fear that once they have the added authority as trustees, our trustee committees will be laying down the law over many more matters than the Charity Commission requires of them. MM in session could be reduced to the level of an advisory committee.

I believe a better model would aim to alter MMs' structures and procedures as little as possible (almost not at all), and leave Ďrunningí the MM as at present. If MM wanted at a later date to alter its arrangements and internal structure such as to split or rename a committee it could do so without requiring Charity Commission or Trustees' permission.

MM could appoint five trustees whose job would merely be to ensure they were aware of what the MM was doing, and report annually to the Charity Commission If necessary Trustees might advise MM when they considered changes were required. Trustees would need to accede to important documents such as bank mandates and property sales. Thus they would have the degree of control required by the Commission. But so long as they continued to act properly, as they have in the past, MMs would experience almost no change to their 350 year old way of working.

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Trustees and General Committee

The case for a two-body model.

Submitted to Monthly Meeting, 22 Feb 07 (and roundly rejected!)

Assuming we accept the 'template' Governing Document (GD) offered by Quaker Stewardship Committee without any amendment, we could nevertheless have a structure in which we do not change any part of our Monthly Meeting (MM) other than to set up a body of trustees. It could be the minimum number required by the GD, five.

The job of the trustees would be to maintain awareness of what goes on in MM especially matters to do with our finances and our property. They would need to report annually to the Charity Commission on these matters. Full stop.

However, the Trustees might also offer advice to MM, either to point out dubious practices, or as might any member, to suggest improvements.

Other committees and parts of the MM could carry on as now, or could at a later date be altered as decided by MM.

Our General Committee (GC) could continue to deal with the matters it now deals with though for the administration of our property it would need to include two trustees. GC could be asked by MM to do more or fewer jobs by MM, without any need to get the prior approval of the trustees.

Throughout the GD the trustees are required to "ensure" certain things are done. Trustees are not required to do those things themselves. These are things which are currently done within MM. Moreover, trustees are entitled to delegate any functions to committees so long as they include at least two trustees.

The only exception is 'administration of property', where 'property' is implicitly defined as not including finances, since in the next sentence after that which refers to property is one referring to 'income and property'.

Thus, as long as our GC included two trustees there need be no change in any of our structures or procedures.

(Actually it is not specified but I would assume that documents such as bank signatory mandates would need to be signed by a trustee.)

In my opinion this would be a far better way of conducting our affairs than what is proposed, namely that trustees must run or manage or administer all the MM's legalistic activities, and that rather than having two groups administering different things, the trustees and our existing General Committee should be combined into one body.

Some reasons why a small body of trustees is preferable:

Least disturbance and change to a structure and process we have found satisfactory for 350 years, without fossilising it, i.e. we are as able to change them as before, and more so than in the proposed setup;

Imperceptible reduction in the authority of MM.

Least change for members of our General Committee.

No confusion about which duties and which directives are due to GC's role as trustees, rather than those that are not trusteeship duties.

Independence of trustees as such from the activities of GC which should offer even better protection against any misdirected activities of the latter.

Enables trustees to be specialists as such without requirement to administer activities. (In practice trustees would be elderly former members of GC, former MM clerks, etc.)

Limits the power of the trustees in a practical sense.

Similarly, enables GC to be practical administrators without the onerous responsibilities of trustees, and without the enhanced sense of power and authority especially vis a vis MM.

Clarifies the role of trustees in the eyes of other members.

Conforms to our testimony to simplicity

Conforms to Charity Commission requirement that trustees have ultimate control of the property and finance, insofar as they would have to be asked to sign off all important documents - bank mandates, sales and purchases of property.

An alternative.

If 'administering the property of MM' is interpreted as buying, selling, and ensuring maintenance of land and buildings, then rather than delegating this to GC, trustees could administer this themselves. This would relieve GC of an irksome and time consuming task. In practice much of this is done by local meetings - they would have to submit expensive proposals to trustees rather than to GC. This might be regarded as making the job of trustee more interesting. It would also conform to the practice in Greater London and in Manchester where a separate body attends to the management of property.

Explanation: Why my simple suggestion was not accepted by the Trusteeship Task Group: I believe this is because there is a widespread misunderstanding that the trustees must manage or run the relevant affairs of the Meeting in order to be fully aware of its activities. Not only did I know this to be unfounded but careful examination of the QSC GD shows that my simpler approach is not precluded. Most trusts are essentially very simple, so it is sensible for the trustees also to be the administrators. But it is not a requirement of the Charity Commission and most medium and large organisations separate the roles of trustees and managers.

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