Code for success

Equality, diversity and inclusion are key to good charity governance


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Rosie Chapman

Chair, Charity Governance Code Steering Group

A renewed focus on equality, diversity and inclusion is one of the highlights of the updated Charity Governance Code published at the end of 2020. The Code is overseen by a steering group of charity infrastructure bodies and it sets out recommended good governance practice for charities. So what does it say?

The update’s backdrop are the wider changes in society, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, and the widely held view that the charity world has reached a ‘tipping point’ in terms of agreement that more action was required to address diversity and inclusion. The new Code, developed after extensive consultation and with the aid of expert help, was the response to that call.

EDI Principle

The, now named, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Principle reflects the importance of all three elements. All trustees have the same responsibility for the charity, so they must have equality of opportunity to contribute to decision making. Board diversity, in the widest sense, is important because it creates more balanced decision-making and greater connection to the communities and people the charity serves. Equality and diversity are only effective and sustainable if the board ensures that all trustees are welcomed, valued and able to contribute.

Addressing EDI helps boards to make better decisions. This requires ongoing commitment, but it means that a charity is more likely to stay relevant and deliver its public benefit.

The Code sets new expectations for what charities should be doing to embed EDI in their organisation, including in their governance and boards. In particular, it sets out four stages of recommended practice to guide charities along their EDI journey.

Four stages of recommended practice:

1. Think about why EDI is important

The first stage asks boards to think about why EDI is important for the charity, for the delivery of its aims, and to assess the current level of understanding among the board and throughout the organisation. Good boards will make time and space to talk together about what equality, diversity and inclusion means for the charity and for the board within the organisation’s specific context. A good board will also ask itself what is missing and what is needed.

2. Set tailored plans and targets

The second stage recommends that, after a board has carried out its initial assessment and created a greater shared understanding, it sets out tailored plans and targets that are relevant to the charity’s context and its starting point. This does not mean trying to solve or change everything at once. It is more about focusing on what is important and defining relevant timebound and realistic goals.

3. Monitor and measure

Third, boards are recommended to monitor and measure how well the charity is doing in meeting those plans and targets – including any targets which specifically relate to the board. An important element is reviewing progress and the changes made. Just as importantly, it is about creating an environment in which there is a willingness to make mistakes and to learn from them.

4. Be transparent about progress

The fourth stage recommends that boards are transparent and publish their charity’s progress in meeting its EDI targets – including any challenges, opportunities, and learning. This transparency may feel nerve-wracking, but when done well it gives public accountability and it allows others to share in the learning.

In carrying out these four steps we have also commonly heard that it is important not to rush to solutions, which might be tokenistic, and instead to recognise that it is an iterative journey. We know that charities are at different points on their EDI journey. The updated Code is designed to help charities and charity boards along that path.

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NHF Code of Governance 2020


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