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If you are in the process of setting up a charity or already have one up and running, you may be surprised at the amount of regulation that must be complied with and the specialist work that is required to be undertaken.

One of the essential administrative elements of a well-organised and compliant charity is having a committee or committees to carry out the functions set by the board.

Each committee requires a talented secretary to ensure its members remain focused and complete assigned tasks. This article explains the roles and functions of a charity’s committee and its secretary.

What is a charity committee?

Many charity boards are supported by committees. A well-represented and thought-out committee can help free up time on the board’s agenda and provide the capacity for trustees to examine specific issues in detail.

A committee meets regularly and may form sub-committees to carry out specific tasks. For example, a charity may comprise the main committee and have sub-committees for fundraising and audits.

Most committees have between 12 to 15 members, including a secretary and chair. They tend to be made of charity staff members but can also include trustees and external consultants.

What type of tasks can be assigned to a charity committee?

The charity committee is assigned tasks that: 

  • Requires detailed analysis that the board cannot practically carry out
  • Need expertise that is not currently available through the board
  • Provides the board's confidence when it comes to compliance matters
  • Involves third-party stakeholders
  • Needs a creative approach
  • Particularly suited to committees.

Essentially, committees focus on strategic matters and report progress on delegated tasks to the board. Therefore, the projects assigned to a committee must be well-briefed.

What are the responsibilities of a charity committee’s secretary?

A charity committee’s secretary performs several essential functions. Therefore the role should be filled by someone who is meticulously organised and good at record-keeping.

A secretary is the committee’s main point of contact for the committee members and the board (along with the chairperson).

They are responsible for the following: 

  • Organising committee meetings
  • Working with the chairperson to set the agenda
  • Notifying details of upcoming meetings to committee members
  • Preparing necessary paperwork for the meeting (including minutes and reports of the previous meeting)
  • Taking notes during the meeting and distributing them to committee members, 
  • Reporting to the board

The secretary is responsible for ensuring members stay engaged and on track regarding implementing the board and, ultimately, the charity’s mandate.

To ensure new committee members understand the charity’s objectives, it is wise to have an induction pack. This should contain documents such as the charity’s governing document and the roles and profiles of the charity’s trustees and other committee members.

What are the qualities of a good committee secretary?

When selecting a committee secretary, consider choosing someone who has the followings characteristics:

  • Makes all members feel valued and listens well
  • Encourages new members to join the committee
  • Is well-organised and can plan for the future
  • Is a strong networker
  • Is impartial and objective
  • Is sensitive to the feelings of other committee members
  • Knows when to step down

What are the record-keeping duties of a charity committee’s secretary?

Committees need to report regularly to the charity board. A secretary should ensure their reports:

  • Are transparent and accurate.
  • Show the progress of assigned tasks and duties.
  • Highlight any issues that need to be escalated to the board.
  • Deliver information to support the board’s decision-making.
  • Provide information about new technology or thinking from outside people/groups that could help the charity achieve its goals.

One common pitfall a charity committee secretary must be aware of is having the board reopen a particular issue when all that is being asked is clarification on a specific point.

Suppose a matter has already been discussed at the committee level. In that case, the secretary can save time and resources by including in their report the background of how the committee came to its final recommendations.

Charity committees can significantly enhance the board’s work. A stable, talented, well-organised committee with a dedicated secretary provides a charity’s board with the information, recommendations, and specialist skills it needs to carry out specific tasks. This includes tasks such as compliance audits and preparing for fundraising initiatives.

Like all charity roles, it is essential to select a committee secretary carefully to ensure the members stay focused and the necessary reporting and information reaches the board.

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In closing

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