Governance for Good
Being in a governance role on a board or steering committee is a great way to support the charity sector and give back to the community. It is also an ideal way to nurture your leadership skills.
Driving a fast-growing charity or NGO engaged in groundbreaking social change work can be exciting. Good governance is key to social change and community work but do you and your board have what it takes?
What’s the role of a board?
The board/steering committee gives strategic guidance and supports the operational work of the organisation. The board sets the vision, maps the way and holds the purse strings. The employees make those dreams come true. Usually, the CEO or manager is the interface between the board and operations.
Being on a board means work.
You get to put board member on your CV and the deep satisfaction of doing good work, but in return you are required to dip into your networks, spare time, experience and skills in support of the organisation’s mission. Many board members give oodles of their time in support of their causes. Unlike the corporate sector, not-for-profit board members are often unpaid.
When the charity I manage (The Funding Network NZ) was advertising for new Steering Committee members recently we estimated the time commitment to be an hour a week on average, more if the committee member was engaged in a project or we were putting on an event. (We specialise in live crowd-funding events in support of small-medium social change projects.) We made sure to ask candidates for the committee whether they had the time and space to take on being an advocate for The Funding Network’s mission. Effective governance involves the board members integrating the organisation’s mission into their daily lives, promoting the work of the organisation and keeping alert for possibilities for the organisation.
A good board reflects the people your work is supporting.
I recommend taking a look at the demographics of your board. What pool of skills does your board have access to? Identify what experience and skills you’d like to recruit for. What background are you all from? What demographic do you serve? Do you have a good gender mix represented at the board table?
Do you have a spread of ages on your board? Do you need board members from urban and rural areas to be effective? A spread of members hailing from different geographical locations if your work is national? These days it is possible for board members to Skype into meetings, so we don’t all need to live in the same city.
Are any of your board Tangata Whenua? Do you have a range of cultural and gender identities represented?
And a personal grievance of mine: it drives me nutty when community development organisations and social change groups ask for university qualifications for their boards and employees. A university degree does not ensure a good candidate. I would take rich life experience, skills and the right cultural fit over a degree any day. That person may or may not have a degree. That aside, the idea of the university educated working to better the poor who have not been to university and the underprivileged doesn’t sit right with me.
What does good governance look like?
To me, good governance is a heady mix of the people, the purpose and the path toward the goals of the organisation. A good board will oversee without being stifling. It drives the strategic direction of the organisation at a sustainable pace and in a positive way for all involved. The board reviews and monitors the organisation’s finances, works with the CEO to make sure the appropriate resources, funds and people are available to implement the strategic objectives.
A good board will keep a solid foundation for the organisation’s work and finances, so creative risks may be taken, new ideas trialled and trails may be blazed. A healthy board will suggest innovative ways forward and will budget for times of reflection and visioning retreats which are vital to the health and effectiveness of the organisation.
As the board is tasked with the job of hiring and managing the CEO, it is up to the board to ensure a smooth transition with a new CEO starting.
Another mark of a good board is active consultation with other stakeholders within the organisation to garner their opinions and ideas. A good board is not afraid to be honest and will look closely at the organisation’s mission and methodology and ask the hard questions that lead the way to new and innovative ways of working.
To throw out some buzzwords in summation, a good board would be transparent, responsive, participatory, accountable, inclusive, effective and efficient. Anything else you think should be added?