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COVID-19 – don’t let your charity take unnecessary risks

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Local communities are facing some real challenges, even as we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 lock down. Local charities are keen to help, and many are involved in organizing local responses. This is a great thing, but we want to sound a note of caution.

There is a danger that in seeking to help, charities can find themselves doing things that they were not set up to do. For example a charity that generally provides arts activities might decide to get involved in delivering food parcels. There are three potential risks in doing so:   

  1. by law trustees must only make decisions that are consistent with their charity’s objects and powers, as set out in their governing document. The Charity Commission may, and has, taken action against trustees who lead their charity into unauthorized areas of work;
  2. moving into new and potentially risky areas of work means that existing policies and practices around safeguarding or health and safety can quickly become out-of-date. Alongside an increased risk of harm to staff, volunteers and beneficiaries there is a possibility that insurance cover may be invalidated if a charity acts outside of its normal remit;
  3. funding may need to be repaid, for example if core funding for the organisation’s regular charitable activities is used for a different purpose.

The Community Foundation is keen to support local people to respond to the challenge of COVID-19 but not if it places them in jeopardy. So we urge all our grantees to make sure they consider the governance implications of moving into new areas of work, and to consider taking advice on how to do so without taking unnecessary legal, financial or health and safety risks. If in doubt, we recommend you to take advice from the various support agencies listed on our website.