Good governance relies on hard work and commitment, mutual respect and open communication, pretty much like building a team. Collaboration and good team work on a board is essential, because if your trustees don’t work well together, you don’t get good decision making, and this can be a real risk to your long-term survival as an organisation.

I’ve been involved in some teamwork of my own recently, collaborating with Scotland’s International Development Alliance on a new Governance Support Package and a webinar to look at ‘How Good is Your Organisation’s Governance’?

The Governance Support Package offers updated guidance on choosing an organisational structure, trustees’ roles and responsibilities, finance, staff and volunteers, and legal issues. It is suitable for both large and small organisations and should help the international development sector in Scotland boost its capacity and skills. The webinar was recorded in October and looks at the Scottish Governance Code for the Third Sector’s five core principles and how you can use SCVO’s Good Governance Checkup to evidence and demonstrate good governance in your organisation.

Governance in the international development sector has been the focus of attention in recent years and presents its own unique challenges. Here are just two areas which trustees need to give particular attention to:


The Governance Support Package looks at budgeting and reserves, fundraising strategy and the importance of having strong internal financial controls. Control is one of the five principles of the Scottish Governance Code and is essential to good governance. It is of vital importance to international development organisations where their work and financial commitments may be far away from where their trustees are and carried out where legal systems and cultural norms may be very different. That’s why it’s vital to ensure that there are the right systems and processes in place to demonstrate that an organisation is well run, transparent and accountable.

All activities overseas need to comply with an organisation’s stated charitable objectives and OSCR’s legal definition of public benefit. There must be robust processes in place for monitoring, and risk and financial management to ensure the appropriate use of charitable funds, and compliance with Scottish charity law. If trustees can get this right, with transparency and good reporting, they can protect their organisation’s reputation and ensure continued support of donors and the public.

Risk and Safeguarding

Trustees of international development organisations also need to ensure they have the correct systems in place to protect their beneficiaries and staff and volunteers abroad. The local environment overseas is likely to be very different to the work of the charity in Scotland, and separate risk assessment and practices should be implemented. The consequences of getting this wrong has been seen with recent safeguarding scandals in large international charities which hit the headlines. Hindsight and charity regulator’s investigations exposed the failure of trustees in these organisations to demonstrate strong leadership in creating an organisational culture that prioritised keeping people safe.