Digging deeper to unearth more valuable insights
Clergy Support Trust
“Our decision to go with Action Planning was validated by their experience of the Christian charity space. We are quite an unusual organisation in the language that we adopt and that can make us feel slightly lonely in the charity space, but Action Planning really understand that landscape. Maurice and the team delivered a frank and insightful report in a very healthy and respectful way. We were impressed.”
Ben Cahill-Nicholls, Chief Executive, Clergy Support Trust
Clergy Support Trust is an independent charity which provides support to Anglican clergy and ordinands, and their families, in times of need. This ancient charity was formed in the 1600s, operates under a royal charter and is, as you might expect, very well governed. However, since its last governance review there had been quite a bit of change, including a new Chief Executive and numerous changes to the Board of Trustees, known as the Court of Assistants. In a matter of years, the charity had transformed from having more trustees than members of staff to the other way around. They had also produced a new strategic plan and the grants made to clergy had grown very rapidly during the pandemic.
With all these changes taken into account, they considered that an external governance review would provide a timely bill of health and they put the work out to tender. They selected Action Planning on the basis of our previous knowledge of the charity, our particular passion and expertise in the Christian charity sector, the strength of our proposal and our team of experts, Maurice Adams, Clare Bamberger and Andrew Barton.
The Trust wanted a governance review and presented us with a list of items that they wanted covered. However, this was a classic case of where the client wants question A answering but the real issue is not question A, that’s downstream from the things that need sorting out. The real need was to dig deeper and rewrite the exam question.
We gathered information from a large number of documents, a survey using DigiBoard and then individual interviews with trustees and senior staff. Maurice led the project and was the point of contact for Chief Executive Ben Cahill-Nicholls. Clare reviewed the documents and triangulated with the DigiBoard results to come up with a sample framework for the interview questions.
The interviews were divided between Maurice, Clare and Andrew and David Saint provided support and a valuable sense of Clergy Support Trust’s history and journey, having worked with previous Chief Executive.
During the process, Andrew and Clare had both attended some committee meetings, which helped to allay any sense of anonymous consultants being parachuted in and enabled us to witness the way the trustees interacted with each other. We also had two Zoom calls with the Court, in order to keep the channels of communications open. We felt it was important to come across as a team of people who were interested and on the ball with what they were doing.
Once we had all the interview data, the three Associates compared notes to draw their conclusions and come up with the main themes of the report. Maurice then wrote the report and he and Clare joined a board meeting to take some questions, before leaving the trustees to discuss it among themselves.
While the report covered the 17 points in the original brief, the main message we were able to deliver concerned the relationships among the trustees and between the trustees and staff, with a graphic illustration of what needed to change.
“We had a meeting earlier this week to start putting into place the recommendations,” says Ben. “That emphasised to trustees how valuable it had been to have someone external affirm and validate things we knew and also to look at us objectively.
“One thing that was really useful for such a new group of trustees was the focus on people and relationships, and the recommendation that the Court needed to spend more time together. That has already been successfully implemented. We had a really good away day.
“There were some very helpful recommendations around the relational side too, the committee structure and how time is spent, as well as some very useful comments around the sheer volume of paperwork and how that can be streamlined.”
Part of the consulting skill is to be able to interpret information that has been provided quantitatively to you and a) intelligently use it to frame interviews and b) to read between the lines. Clergy Support Trust had very good processes in place – the minutes were beautifully taken, the meetings well conducted – but there were tensions that we were able to pick up from the documents.
This case was an illustration of the general fact that the ‘hard’ elements of governance structure –committees – are not really the main presenting issues in good governance. It’s more to do with the ‘human’ elements, the culture, and our review pinpointed some of those issues. Sitting in on meetings is very important to this end because it’s the softer human interaction around the edges that gives real insight into what’s really going on. Governance is not something you can do by just reading the documents.
This case also demonstrated the benefits of a multi-Associate team. With different skill sets and different perspectives on the intricacies of the Church of England from our experience at the sharp end of the beneficiary group, we were able to draw more insightful conclusions and get things done quicker.