About the Code

About the code and how to use it

About the Code

Good governance in charities is fundamental to their success.

A charity is best placed to achieve its ambitions and aims if it has effective governance and the right leadership structures. Skilled and capable trustees will help a charity attract resources and put them to best use. Good governance enables and supports a charity’s compliance with relevant legislation and regulation. It also promotes attitudes and a culture where everything works towards fulfilling the charity’s vision.

It is the aim of this Code to help charities and their trustees develop these high standards of governance. As a sector, we owe it to our beneficiaries, stakeholders and supporters to demonstrate exemplary leadership and governance. This Code is a practical tool to help trustees achieve this.

The Code is not a legal or regulatory requirement. It draws upon, but is fundamentally different to, the Charity Commission’s guidance. Instead, the Code sets the principles and recommended practice for good governance and is deliberately aspirational: some elements of the Code will be a stretch for many charities to achieve. This is intentional: we want the Code to be a tool for continuous improvement towards the highest standards.

This Code has been developed by a steering group, with the help of over 200 charities, individuals and related organisations. We would like to thank everyone who has given comments and assistance during the consultation. Development of the Code would not have been possible without The Clothworkers’ Company or the Barrow Cadbury Trust, whom we thank for their support.

We hope you find it useful in helping your charity to make an ever bigger difference.

Using the Code

Steering group and sponsors 

Steering group and sponsors

The Charity Governance Code Steering Group is a cross-sector collaboration with an independent chair, Radojka Miljevic. The group’s purpose is to review, develop, promote and maintain the Code for the sector.

Using the Code

Who is the Code for?

This Code is intended for use by charities registered in England and Wales. Much of it will also apply to other not-for-profit organisations that deliver a public or community benefit and those with a social purpose. Organisations or subsectors may find it helpful to adapt the Code to reflect their context.

The Code’s principles, rationale and outcomes are universal and apply equally to all charities, whatever their size or activities.

The recommended good practice to meet these principles will vary. Although it’s hard to be precise about the distinction between larger or more complex charities, governance practice can look significantly different depending upon a charity’s size, income, activities or complexity. We have produced different versions of the recommended practice to reflect and address some of these differences.

Which version you choose to use will depend on a range of factors. In general, we recommend that charities with a typical income of over £1m a year, and whose accounts are externally audited, use the larger version and charities below this threshold use the smaller version.

How it works

This Code is designed as a tool to support continuous improvement. Charity boards that are using this Code effectively will regularly revisit and reflect on the Code’s principles.

Compliance with the law is an integral part of good governance. This Code does not attempt to set out all the legal requirements that apply to charities and charity trustees, but it is based on a foundation of trustees’ basic legal and regulatory responsibilities. The seven Code principles build on the assumption that charities are already meeting this foundation.

The Code sets out principles and recommended practice. See the Code’s useful resources and links section on the Code’s website for more detailed guidance on how to meet the Code.

Each principle in the Code has a brief description, a rationale (the reasons why it is important), key outcomes (what you would expect to see if the principle were adopted) and recommended practice (what a charity might do to implement the principle).

Apply or explain

We anticipate that how a charity uses the Code is something which will develop and mature, particularly where the charity is growing and changing. Given this, some of the recommended practice may not be appropriate for a particular charity to follow initially, but it may become so in the future.

It’s important that trustees discuss the Code’s principles and recommended practice and make well-considered decisions about how these should be applied in their charity.

A charity should explain the approach it takes to applying the Code, so it is transparent to anyone interested in its work. We call this approach ‘apply or explain’. All trustees are encouraged to meet the principles and outcomes of the Code by either applying the recommended practice or explaining what they have done instead or why they have not applied it. We have not used the phrase ‘comply or explain’, which is used by some other governance Codes, because meeting all the recommended practice in this Code is not a regulatory requirement.

Charities that adopt the Code are encouraged to publish a brief statement in their annual report explaining their use of the Code. We anticipate that this statement will be a short narrative rather than a lengthy ‘audit’ of policies and procedures.

Some charities work in areas, such as housing and sport, that have their own sector-specific governance Codes. These Codes may well take precedence over this Code, and such charities are encouraged to say in their annual reports which governance Code they follow.

The principles

There are seven principles which make up this Code. These seven principles build on the assumption that a charity is meeting its legal and regulatory responsibilities as a foundation.


1. Organisational purpose

The board is clear about the charity’s aims and ensures that these are being delivered effectively and sustainably.

2. Leadership

Every charity is led by an effective board that provides strategic leadership in line with the charity’s aims and values.

3. Integrity

The board acts with integrity, adopting values and creating a culture which help achieve the organisation’s charitable purposes. The board is aware of the importance of the public’s confidence and trust in charities, and trustees undertake their duties accordingly.

4. Decision-making, risk and control

The board makes sure that its decision-making processes are informed, rigorous and timely and that effective delegation, control and risk assessment and management systems are set up and monitored.

5. Board effectiveness

The board works as an effective team, using the appropriate balance of skills, experience, backgrounds and knowledge to make informed decisions.

6. Equality, diversity and inclusion

The board’s approach to diversity supports its effectiveness, leadership and decision-making.

7. Openness and accountability

The board leads the organisation in being transparent and accountable. The charity is open in its work, unless there is good reason for it not to be.

Support the Code

The Charity Governance Code is authored by a voluntary steering group without dedicated staff resource. The Code has been developed by the sector, for the sector. This set up is unlike any other sector’s governance code and, unlike some other codes, we do not charge for, nor receive a license fee.

We are grateful to Clothworkers Company and Barrow Cadbury Trust for supporting the development of the new Code.

We want the Code to remain relevant, sustainable and freely available for every charity to use. Our aspiration is that all charities are aware of the Code and its value.

To achieve this, we rely on the generosity of our supporters and those who benefit from the Code. We very much welcome donations from organisations and individuals who use the Code and want to contribute to ensuring its take-up, use and success.

The Code steering group has exciting plans to promote use of the Code, monitor impact and to ensure resources exist to help charities implement the practice. We’d encourage regular donations to help support this important work in strengthening the sector’s governance.

To make a donation please email charitygovernancecode@ncvo.org.uk include your name, organisation and the amount you would like to donate.

All donations are made to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) charity number 225922 and company number 19834. NCVO holds all donations in a reserve fund on behalf of the Governance Code steering group. All funds are used to support the work of the Code steering group.

NCVO is registered with the fundraising regulator.

Updating the Code

Both the sector’s understanding of good governance and its stakeholders’ expectations change over time. The Code’s steering group is committed to continually improving the Code by reviewing its contents and impact every three or so years. The latest review resulted in a refreshed Code being published in December 2020.

Consulting on the Code

The updated 2020 Code follows a rigorous consultation with the charity sector that received over 800 responses. The consultation report published in August 2020 includes the key themes identified in the consultation. You can download the report here (PDF, 194KB). The original consultation document can be downloaded here (PDF, 90KB).

Changes to the Code in 2020

This work has resulted in a refresh rather than an overhaul of the Code. This reflects feedback that the steering group must strike a balance between continually updating the Code and potentially disrupting embedding the Code’s use . The enhancements focus on Principle 3: Integrity and Principle 6: Diversity, now called Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. These were the principles that received the most consistent feedback in the consultation as the areas where change was required. The videos below explain the key changes made to the Code in 2020.

Integrity Principle

EDI Principle

Support for the EDI Principle

For more information on the changes:

Webinar: Refreshing the Code 

Prior to launching the Code the steering group ran a webinar to explain key changes. This webinar details the rationale for change and includes practical recommendations on implementation.

Updates from the Code steering group

To find out more about the consultation or specific areas we are keen to explore, read the Charity Governance Code blog on Medium.


charity consultation.pdf

Refreshing the Charity Governance Code.pdf

Refreshing the Charity Governance Code.pdf

PR CGC Refreshed Code launch 21220.pdf