Samaritans is a registered charity, founded in 1953, which offers 24-hour confidential emotional support to people in distress. The service is offered by 17,000 trained volunteers across 203 separate branches in the UK.
In 2004, Samaritans' volunteers responded to more than 4.7 million pleas for help by phone, e-mail, letter and face-to-face. The charity raises funds from individuals, companies, trust and statutory sources.
Samaritans' council of management wanted to streamline the governing structure of the charity to improve decision-making and increase effectiveness. This included selecting a new, smaller trustee board of 15 members. Formerly, all 203 branch directors acted as trustees of the charity, taking on the legal, financial and other responsibilities of the role, as well as the needs of managing a branch.
Daphne Pullen, chair of Samaritans during the restructure, said the challenges of running a successful charity in the 21st century meant this original structure was becoming too cumbersome.
"The old board used to meet just twice a year, so it was difficult for them to make timely decisions on finance and investment issues. There was no capacity to react quickly. Also, the cost of bringing them together more often was too great," she says.
This situation meant trustees had personal liability for issues they often had no control over because they met so infrequently, Pullen says.
The charity had attempted a re-governance project back in 2000, but it failed to get off the ground. However, when new chief executive David King joined in 2004, Pullen started to think about the process again.
"This time we thought more closely about the way to handle and communicate the process to members. People were worried a change in governance might change their right of representation and make them less important. So we wanted to protect that right and reassure them," she says.
Pullen approached Jane Burt, a former HR director at high-street bank Abbey and a long-standing volunteer at the charity, to design and run the recruitment and selection process for the new trustee board.
But the ti