Picture the scene:
Chair: I’ve told the Wilma Trust we will extend our rape crisis helpline to include services for men.
Chief Officer: I’m not sure we should do this for a number of reasons. But most importantly extending the helpline has not been agreed by the board.
Chair: Oh! I emailed the board members about it. Those who replied, which was most of them, I think, agreed with my proposal.
CO: But that’s not the same as a decision made at a formal meeting. And anyway, extending the helpline isn’t in our strategic plan.
Chair: It may not be in the plan, but it’s important to our mission. I know because I wrote the mission when we started. And anyway it should be in the strategic plan to be consistent with equalities legislation.
CO: Be that as it may, it isn’t sound decision-making!
Chair: The board will agree with the change; you’ll see.
In the end? The board ratifies the proposal at its next meeting.
Does the story seem unlikely? It shouldn’t. Founders of charities, whether as chair or chief officer, figure extensively in studies of organisation failure. It is widely argued that governance (and not just in the third sector) is beset with dilemmas.
But of course, problems are just one aspect of governance. More common, and more significant, is the commitment that was evident at the recent 2015 Trustee Conference in Airdrie
Those in attendance argued for a view that recognises the differences in how people and groups work together. Relationships are complex, particularly so if the roles are not straightforward, and problems can arise when trustees hold differing views. Individuals need to harness their passion and interests as trustees and and make sure they use all the tools available to ensure they govern well.
How then do you have a sound board? Here’s my top tips:
- Look after relationships and take the time to talk about them.
- Hold away days.
- Promote learning and development for all in the organisation, e.g., SCVO’s course on getting to grips with governance
- Be fair employers.
- Where appropriate, make use of outside consultants.
- Seek help when relationships become strained, and well before they break down.
- Look after roles and regularly review your governance arrangements. And seek guidance when you need to.
- Talk about governance. This will encourage accountability and help build a healthy consensus.
- Finally, celebrate achievements! While it’s easier to talk about problems, it’s really important to recognise what you’re doing right.