Samaritans small logo

Samaritans provides emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland.

In 2018 the charity commenced a review of the role of its Chair, including role description;  appointment process; scope of the role (internally and external to Samaritans), and relationship to the overall Trustee Board. To undertake the review Samaritans appointed a Working Group made up of the Chair, CEO and senior volunteers, which worked with governance consultants Rosie Chapman and John Williams to look at Samaritans’ current policies and processes; talk to trustees, senior volunteers and staff; benchmark other comparable organisations; and draw on their extensive knowledge of best practice in charity leadership and governance.

There were several factors behind the review: internally, it was the culmination of a series of major governance changes in other areas; there was concern about the increasing workload , due to the size of the current chair role (required to be an existing Samaritans volunteer, they serve as chair of board, Council of Samaritans and some committees), and a review provided an opportunity to clarify  the distinction between governance and management in Samaritans, and to reduce the complexity of the legal and governance structure of Samaritans.  Externally, the changing regulatory environment had brought new pressures and increased expectations.

Rosie and John worked closely with the Working Group throughout, reviewing existing governance document, conducting interviews and developing “straw man” options.  At different stages, the Working Group led a process of extensive volunteer consultation.

Together, we developed four key proposals that were refined through the consultations:

  • That the post of chair should not be confined to Samaritans volunteers, and should now be opened up to all applicants
  • To support the chair, a post of Vice Chair should be created, but only open to Samaritans volunteers to further develop a focussed volunteer voice on the Trustee Board to inform decision-making and ensure branches are at the heart of planning and decision-making.
  • To wider board diversity, the requirement for a majority of trustees to be Samaritans volunteers should be reduced from two-thirds to a simple majority
  • With opening up the chair to internal and external applicants, a new recruitment process should be established: it was felt impractical for Council to continue to choose the new chair. This will enable a more robust and searching recruitment process and a final decision by the board.

These proposals were taken to the Samaritans Council (AGM) meeting  in October 2019 and all elements achieved the required 75% majority to be written into the governing document.

These changes are now being implemented to take effect for the next Chair appointment in late 2020.

“Thank you both again for the great support you have provided through this process, it has been invaluable both directly for this project and, of course, some wider observations about how Samaritans works”. Andy Robarts, Governance Manager