Get fit, lose weight and learn to play the piano … I’ve had the same three New Year’s resolutions for the last decade.

Despite announcing them to all and sundry, I’m still unfortunately in the same dress size, get out of breath running for the bus, and no closer to tinkling those ivories.

This probably says a lot about my lack of determination and focus, but here goes: I’m going to try again for the same three this year.

So in the spirit of renewal and improvement, if you’re a trustee of a voluntary organisation, what are you going to do better this year?

Every member of your board should be giving what each and every one of your stakeholders demand

You might be wondering about how your board can be better? Well, how about starting by being more accountable?

Maybe you think you’re already an accountable trustee. In that case, I would ask: who to?

Have a look at this run down of ‘the usual suspects’.

  • OSCR
  • Companies House
  • Your local authority
  • The Scottish government
  • The Care Inspectorate
  • HMRC
  • The Health and Safety Executive
  • Your auditors

The list could go on, as I learned when I attended the CASS Business School Building Better Governance series of workshops late last year.

One session I found particularly useful looked at accountability as a trustee. We did an exercise on who trustees are accountable to, and for what. Whilst it may seem a pretty basic question, it was interesting to take the time and think about this, both from the viewpoint of individual trustees and from the board as a whole.

Which brings me to another question: just what is your board’s responsibilities?

I’ve already listed the usual suspects who have certain legal requirements. But for all voluntary organisations, accountability goes well beyond officialdom and regulators to include actors such as:

  • beneficiaries
  • members, staff and volunteers
  • funders and donors
  • the local community
  • and the wider general public

Each of these stakeholders can and do have very different expectations.

Think about it – your current and future beneficiaries do not require the same of you as your funders, the regulators, and your staff. This is why it’s so important to think beyond a ‘compliance’ based approach to accountability.

In other words, as well as complying with your legal obligations and adhering to best practice standards, you should be able to explain and demonstrate two other things: how you’re achieving your charitable purposes, and how you are providing public benefit.

This may seem obvious, but it’s worthwhile to take a real ‘back to basics’ approach.

Every member of your board should be giving what each and every one of your stakeholders demands. So it’s time to think about how you can be more creatively engaged and committed as a board, and have more empathy with your beneficiaries and users.

Think outside the box. It’s not just about legal and financial responsibilities – real participation, involvement and accountability is vital for good governance.

Here’s three key things to consider:

  1. Think about how your board contributes to strategy and long term sustainability for your organisation.
  2. Think about how you set and meet your aims and objectives.
  3. Think how you enhance and build the reputation and profile of your organisation.

Take time out before you get caught up in all your 2016 activities by coming together as a board to identify the range of stakeholders who are interested in or affected by your work. It will be broader than you think.

After that, decide what information these stakeholders need, and work out how you’re going to engage with them and meet their expectations.

Meantime, I’m off for a run to my piano lesson!