Two guidance documents published by the Charities Regulatory Authority (the “CRA”) in recent weeks are essential reading for trustees and managers of charities. The two guidance documents set out the duties of charity trustees and provide useful advice on internal financial controls for charities.

On 21 July 2017, the CRA announced the publication of two guidance documents. The first guidance document, Guidance for Charity Trustees[1], will assist trustees to better understand their duties. The second guidance document, Internal Financial Controls Guidelines for Charities[2], provides helpful advice in relation to the internal financial controls that charities should consider implementing. This ezine summarises the contents of these documents and highlights their importance for charity trustees.

What guidance is provided by the CRA on the duties of charity trustees?

Although charity trustees can delegate their functions to a single trustee or member of staff, they cannot delegate their ultimate collective responsibility for the management of the charity. Their duties arise from the governing document of the charity, legislation and decisions of the Irish courts.

The CRA lists the general duties of charity trustees as follows:

  1. To comply with the charity’s governing document;
  2. To ensure the charity is carrying out its charitable purposes for the public benefit;
  3. To act in the best interests of the charity;
  4. To act with reasonable care and skill;
  5. To manage the assets of the charity and ensure that all property of the charity is accounted for; and
  6. To make appropriate investment decisions.

The CRA lists the specific duties of charity trustees which arise under the Charities Act 2009 as follows:

  1. To ensure registration of the charity on the Register of Charities;
  2. To ensure proper books of account are kept;
  3. To ensure financial accounts are furnished to the CRA;
  4. To ensure annual reports are furnished to the CRA;
  5. To ensure the CRA is informed where there are reasonable grounds for believing theft or fraud has occurred; and
  6. To ensure compliance with directions issued by the CRA.

Although charity trustees are volunteers, it is important to understand the significant obligations imposed on them by virtue of their position as custodians of a charity. Charity trustees should ensure that they familiarise themselves with these duties and act accordingly. Adherence to these duties will not only enhance the management and compliance of a charity but will also enhance transparency.

What internal financial controls advice does the CRA provide?

The CRA’s guidance on internal financial controls is an excellent first step in ensuring that charity trustees develop and implement internal financial controls appropriate to their charity. The purpose of such controls is to safeguard charity assets and detect any potential fraudulent activity. The guidance focuses on small to medium sized charitable organisations and is split into five sections concerning:

  1. Income (including income from donations, public collections, events, trading and grants);
  2. Expenditure;
  3. Banking (including payments and loans);
  4. Assets and investments; and
  5. Monitoring arrangements.

Each section sets out best practice controls that can be put in place and contains useful checklists for charity trustees to assist them in identifying weaknesses in their charity’s controls. This is a helpful way of assisting charity trustees to develop a more robust system of internal financial controls which is in accordance with legal requirements and best practice.

Charity trustees should carefully study this guidance and work towards implementing the best practice financial controls. In situations where the charity trustees do not follow this guidance, they must be in a position to justify their approach.

The publication of guidance by the CRA is very beneficial, as it provides charity trustees with a clear statement of their duties and a comprehensive set of guidelines in relation to internal financial controls. It also encourages charity trustees to be proactive in ensuring that their charity is being properly managed.

The guidance makes it clear that the CRA will require charity trustees to be able to explain and justify their approach to controlling and managing their charity. It is therefore essential that charity trustees familiarise themselves with the content of these two guidance documents and ensure the implementation of best practice within their charities.