The Western Front Association (WFA) is a charity and, as such, must operate in the UK within the laws laid down by the Charities Act. Each branch is also a charity, even if its level of income does not require it to register as such. However, the requirements placed on the WFA include an obligation to manage all affairs of the Association appropriately - this includes its members and Branches. So certain aspects of Branch activities need to conform to the concepts of management, responsibility and accountability. The guidelines that follow are designed to assist in this.
The Trustees of the charity bear the ultimate risk should anything go wrong. This is an onerous and serious personal liability placed on people who are, like Branch Chairs and Officials, all volunteers. The Branch Chairs and officers have a duty to ensure that their Branch operations do not incur any liability or risk to the Association. If you need help or advice in any matter relating to the WFA, please contact the National Executive Committee at the first opportunity. Addresses, emails and phone numbers can be found on the website and in the Bulletin and Stand To! The Branch co-ordinator will usually be your first contact - (s)he will point you to the appropriate officer who will deal with your query.
Branch management and structure
It is advisable for a small Committee to manage a Branch. Usually, this will be (as a minimum) Chair, Secretary and Treasurer. Small Branches might combine the latter two roles, larger Branches may feel the need to have a larger Committee, incorporating (for instance) a Vice-Chair, Speaker Secretary, Magazine editor.... and perhaps some non-specific-role members. These posts will usually be filled using a democratic process, normally utilising the Branch AGM to validate such appointments. As laid down in the Constitution, all Committee members must be fully paid up members of the WFA.
While the Branch Committee is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Branch, they must at all times remember that they are acting for the WFA members who attend their meetings and are answerable for their decisions. When planned events that may not involve all those who regularly attend meetings, special consideration should be given as to whether branch funds (if needed) are being used responsibly. In some cases of major expenditure, the committee may feel it prudent to call a general meeting to validate their decisions.
Once again, the Branch Co-ordinator is available to advise on policy matters.
This will vary according to the size and assets of the Branch, but every Branch must remember that it is accountable for all expenditure to those who have donated. Simple two-column book keeping is all that is necessary. A statement of funds with any explanation for large increase/decrease in reserves should ideally be presented once a year, normally at the Branch AGM. It is best practice to have a bank/Building Society account for the Branch in the Branch's name.
It is advisable to build up a small reserve in case of poor attendances due to holidays etc- enough to cover three meetings should suffice. The Branches are responsible for their own debts, and if financial problems occur, they cannot expect to have their liabilities underwritten by the WFA at national level. Conversely, they will not be asked to contribute to central funds, although they may make donations to it if they so choose.
Meeting attendance and 'membership'
Any WFA member has the right to attend any Branch meeting wherever it is held (subject to legal/local ruling constraints).
Branches are encouraged, and usually do, open their meetings to the general public, rather than simply WFA members. However, such 'guests' should not be allowed to vote on any Branch issues that might be raised. There should be no restrictive dress codes, or any discrimination on any other grounds (other than legal). Ideally, the Branch will record names and contact details for all attending - this is useful for recruitment purposes and also has a Health and Safety role in case of emergencies.
It is mandatory that a Branch should not charge a fee for entry to a meeting - this has serious implications for the WFA's charitable status. Instead, a donation should be requested, with a recommended minimum that should not differentiate between WFA members and 'guests'.
While some Branches have an annual payment, this is not considered as a best practice, and it must be clearly understood and stated that any such payments are 'donations', not compulsory dues and such a payment must not carry any additional benefits with it such as a smaller requested meeting donation or other discounts, as may be against Charity Commission regulations. Best practice remains as payment by donation at each meeting.
Branches must abide by the Constitution of the WFA, and special attention is drawn to 9b) which states "All the members of each Branch must also be members of the Association".
Any local rules should always conform to the Constitution, which will always take precedence should any dispute arise. Branches should refer to the Legal trustee for specialist guidance on rules especially regarding the Charities Act.
The Committee should ensure they know and inform those attending about fire exits, alarms and extinguishers, and any other H & S issues. They should also ensure the venue is covered by Public Liability Insurance- it may be useful to have this confirmed in writing. PLI can also be obtained free of charge by contacting the WFA Office.
Every Branch will run its meetings in its own distinctive way - some open with a minute's silence, some with Branch business, some with refreshments: this diversity is part of the strength of the Branch structure. The following are simply examples of best practice that have been shown to be effective.
- Identify and greet any new faces at the meeting, perhaps voicing a general 'welcome' to them in opening remarks.
- Identify any rules of the venue that those attending should be aware of (and include H & S items).
- Treat the room and venue with respect and try to leave it tidy - the Branch is, after all, the ambassador and representative of the WFA.
- At the close, remind those present of the date of the next meeting, the speaker and topic, and include any information you have on events at your neighbouring Branches.
A programme of meetings covering at least six months in the future is probably the minimum needed.
Once arranged, the programme should be sent to the Bulletin editor for publicity purposes, stating speaker, title and a brief synopsis of the topic and/or biography of the speaker.
An accredited events editor should be registered with the website editor: this Branch official should then keep the listings up to date on the dedicated section of the website (diary of meetings)
The website editor welcomes details of special (such as regional) events and seminars, including promotional material, the branch newsletter (if there is one), the Branch Website address, any social media locations and reports - with photographs - on any special events such as seminars and trips. All these activities help to increase a Branch's profile and improve attendances. The Bulletin editor, similarly, invites good 'copy' for the Branch Lines section of the magazine.
It is also prudent to have hard copies of the programme available to hand out at meetings and to display in libraries, book shops, community centres and indeed any other suitable site.
Local and parish publications are also suitable targets for programmes and notice of special events.
A frequently-updated list is available from the Vice Chair/Speaker trustee, preferably by electronic means.
When a speaker has been contacted and agreement reached, make sure the fee (if any) is established, that (s)he knows the time, date and venue of the engagement and the Branch is aware of any transport, accommodation and/or equipment requirements.
It is advisable (especially when booking well in advance) and courteous to re-contact the speaker a few weeks before the engagement and double-check all arrangements. It is an added bonus to have back-up equipment and, in case of a 'no show', a quiz or debate proposition as an alternative to the speaker.
When the speaker arrives, be sure to identify and greet her/him, make them welcome and establish a few bits of background information that can be included in the introduction.
After the talk, ensure the speaker is thanked, entertained, paid any fees due and leaves feeling valued: this is the best way to gain a reputation as a must-visit branch. Similarly, let the Speaker trustee have any pertinent comments (either good or bad) to help other Branches in their selection process .
There should be no concerns about running these, provided basic precautions are taken:
- Insurance: it is the individual's responsibility to arrange and carry adequate insurance, especially if travelling outside the UK. At a minimum, the EHIC card is essential to cover emergency treatment in EU countries.
- Be aware of driving regulations and restrictions which vary greatly, and check they have not changed since last time. For instance, while it is possible to self-drive small minibuses in the UK, this is not allowed in some European countries.
- If any ceremonies or events are planned, pleased ensure the Vice chair/Speaker trustee is informed to avoid clashing with other events. For special ceremonies involving cemeteries, the CWGC should be informed directly as special arrangements may need to be made and/or repair work could be in progress.
- Finance: ideally, such trips will break even or provide a small profit for Branch funds. Trips should not be subsidised without prior authorisation from Branch membership (see Branch finances above).
Branch officials should take all possible steps to avoid disputes, internal or external, including keeping neighbouring Branches aware of their plans and, if appropriate, seeking their approval before implementing them.
For internal disputes, the Branch committee should seek to resolve this internally, remembering that possible sanctions are few and are usually counter-productive. If the dispute cannot be resolved at this level, or involves the officials themselves, advice can be sought from the Branch Co-ordinator. This process is only applicable to WFA members.
Should no resolution still be possible, an application can be made for adjudication by the Branch Co-ordinator who, after investigating and perhaps consulting with other trustees, will make a ruling. This ruling will be binding on all parties and there is no machinery for an appeal.
Relationships with other Branches
Ideally, all Branches will co-exist peacefully for the mutual benefit of all. Liaison, consultation and openness are essential, especially concerning Branches within close proximity of each other.
Please take a moment to reflect how your Branch's actions may impact on your neighbour before you do anything. Consultation and co-operation will ultimately bring greater benefits than unilateral action.
It is vital that any changes, whether of personnel, contact details or venue are reported to the Branch Co-ordinator at the earliest opportunity. Informing the Bulletin or Website editors instead will simply delay matters, as no changes will be made until the Branch Co-ordinator has authorised them. Changes to officials should be accompanied by the relevant minute from an AGM/committee meeting or similar (if appropriate.)
Above all, employ common sense, understanding and an acceptance of others' viewpoints to all Branch dealings, and the WFA will continue to flourish and grow as the Branches continue to be ambassadors throughout the country.