News | June 15, 2020

Emily Minett explores common issues that COVID-19 poses for grant-making charities.

Can we use video or telephone conferencing to hold trustee meetings?

The first step is to review your charity’s governing document to see if it contains any express provisions enabling charity trustees’ meetings to be held by telephone or other electronic means (such as video conferencing).

In the absence of any express provision, the courts have decided that a valid meeting consists of people who can both see and hear each other.  Therefore, it would be possible for trustees to hold a meeting via a video conference where all participants can “see” each other.

Those trustees who do not have a video call facility may still contribute to discussions, but they would not be able to validly vote on any proposal.

We are being inundated with requests for emergency grants during the pandemic, in areas that we do not usually support, can we assist?

You should consider the terms of your charity’s existing charitable purposes.  You may have general charitable purposes that would allow you to make grants to support any charity that has applied for a grant during these times, whether this be an animal rescue charity, or a children’s charity.

It may be sensible to update your Grant Making Policy to reflect the charity’s intended areas of support during the current circumstances.

Charities will be anxious to do all they can to assist in the present crisis but it is important to consider what is permitted by your specific objects before rushing into applying resources in breach of trust.

Can we change our charity’s purposes so we can provide support during the pandemic?

If your existing purposes do not allow you to help, you may be able to amend your governing document to change them, however, depending on the terms of your governing document, this will most likely require approval by the Charity Commission and therefore such changes will not be immediate.  You should consider whether there are other charities that may be better placed to respond than yours.

We have made grants to charities in the last few months but it is likely that they are unable to go ahead with work they intended given the current circumstances.  What should we do?

You should consider the terms on which you made the grant.  If no restrictions were imposed, then it is likely that the organisation will automatically re-direct funds accordingly, for example to cover their core costs for the next few months. 

If the grant was for a specific project only, the grantee may contact you to request permission for these funds to be redirected,  for example, a charity that usually supports performing arts might now wish to direct funds to promoting online resources.