In a Position of Influence
22 October 2014 at 11:08 am
Keeping a Not for Profit’s core mission both sustainable and proven drives Melanie Raymond, the Chair of Youth Projects, an organisation that provides health and outreach services to people experiencing disadvantage. Raymond shares her insights in this week’s Evolving Chair.
In 2012 Raymond was named one of Australia’s Top 100 Most Influential Women in the Westpac & Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence Awards.
She also Chairs the Inter-Governmental Working Group for the City of Melbourne and State Government, the Not for Profit Advisory Group of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and is on the Board of the social enterprise Good Cycles.
What is your organisation and what is the board structure?
Youth Projects is a company limited by guarantee. We have a five member expert Board of non-executive directors.
What attracts you to a Not for Profit or for-profit board?
The Boards of NFPS are in a unique position to drive positive social change. These Boards have before them responsibility and accountability for a $40 billion sector that can make a massive impact on our nation’s truly “wicked problems” that must not go unanswered.
NFP Boards can also consciously set directions that will drive innovation, be flexible and collaborative, probably far more than a commercial board. We do partnerships really well – in fact we rely on them and these are challenges that test the competence and skills of any director.
Not all NFP Boards may be doing that, but for me, it’s been very rewarding to lead change and growth in our response on such compelling issues as homelessness, substance abuse, mental health, youth unemployment and lifting community capacity.
What is the biggest challenge your board has had to overcome? And how did you overcome it?
Our biggest challenge continues to be building our revenue to be sustainable. We need to deliver on our mission, as well as fund the oversight and management that makes our operational activity possible.
First we needed better information to inform our strategic planning. We’ve undertaken external reviews in mission critical areas : our financial management platform and reporting; our IT systems; staff engagement, and audit and compliance.
We have also ramped up our communications and stakeholder relations to establish new corporate supporters, and new collaborative partnerships. We also worked to raise awareness of our brand and our impact, which is critical to corporate and public support.
Working to a new plan we’ve built new revenue streams and improved the performance of other income producing areas. We can see measurable improvement and have clear guidance on where we invest effort.
What are your board’s current priorities/goals?
We are looking closely at diversifying our revenue base to support our operations because Government funding doesn’t keep pace with our true costs. While poverty and homelessness have grown, our resources have not grown.
Within our strategic plan we have the following priorities:
1. greater and more sustainable funding by better management of the income producing units of our organisation – these areas underwrite our service innovation and provide greater income source for our administrative costs.
2. lifting our investment in IT to achieve better vision on our impact and client needs – the sector suffers from so many different data platforms that don’t work together or produce the data that we really need.
3. Work force planning – we need to attract, retain and develop the skills of the amazing people who work in the front line of our services and prevent burnout.
4. Client centred care and planning – ensuring we develop and test what we are doing with our community to achieve maximum impact
5. Improved fundraising efforts with good communication explaining the value and importance of what we do.
Is gender balance an issue for your board? Do you prioritise it?
We have a commitment to a gender balance and diversity on our Board. As Chair it is factored into our Board recruitment. Because there is no shortage of truly talented and inspiring women ready and willing to join NFP Boards, gender balance should not be problematic for any NFP Board. We have a female chair, CEO, deputy chair, chair of audit and risk and over half our managers are female.
What is your board’s ultimate goal?
We want to work proactively as a Board to provide the best possible environment and resources for our teams to deliver on their passion and expertise. That’s our job as board members.
As individuals, I think we all want to turn off the pipeline of entrenched disadvantage in the community to ensure inclusion, empowerment and independence for everyone. We want to do this by offering the building blocks for a better life through connected services, all in one place. Our model lowers the barriers to access and support for people with complex needs. We see the difference we can make by levelling the playing field in highly disadvantaged communities where the poverty is systemic and preventable.
What has been the highlight of your work with this board?
My first shift with our After Hours Nursing Program showed me the impact of what we can do by being courageous and innovative: our highly trained nurses on the street at night deliver health care directly to those most in need – street mental health support, wounds dressed, medication checked, early intervention that is life saving and cost saving. This is a highlight in an organisation that touches me every day with its passion, courage and creativity.
What are the key sector issues that are being discussed at board level?
We are reviewing our impact reporting. This lies at the heart of the organisation’s capacity to demonstrate value and track outcomes, albeit in a system that doesn’t lend itself well to common data sets.
We are also looking at how we invest in our work force, organise roles and accountabilities to maximise outcomes and minimise duplication
Collective impact is a permanent agenda item, looking at the quality, administration and strategic focus of all the energy we invest in the many collaborative structures in which we participate.
Does your board believe collaboration between organisations within your area is important? Why?
Collective impact is the sector’s mantra, but for a long time now the sector has instinctively pulled together, just more informally. New collaborative structures allow the sector to contribute effort at the point of their maximum impact and expertise. However as we move more quickly into collaborative entities, it’s vital that boards keep in mind their vision and mission.
When we approach collaborations, we need to first answer some fundamental questions such as: what are we doing, why, are we good at it, how do we know, and critically, are we the best people to do this?
Do you have any advice around governance?
It is really important to understand the full extent of your duties as a company director, to get training and stay up to date. You should know what good governance looks like and have the courage to speak up at any time on anything that doesn’t seem right, including behaviours.
I’ve always asked myself “what am I not seeing?” because making assumptions can be risky. And there’s no such thing as a dumb question around the Board table – ask it.
The Board should set the culture at the top and therefore the Chair of the Board has a critical leadership role to play. Expect a lot from your Board Chair.
Do you have any advice around recruitment?
Diversity is not a dirty word and it is a no brainer in terms of maximising the value of the Board.
I’ve never rushed Board recruitment. I’ve always undertaken a long “courtship” when recruiting to Boards, to make sure core values are aligned and intent is genuine.
Board members need to be people who will actively contribute to the health and sustainabilty of the organisation – a Board appointment is not a fashion accessory – it’s a serious job and should be seen that way.
Most recruitment to the Board is still done through personal reputation and contact.
Do you have any advice around risk management?
Good vision on how risk management is being managed and reported is vital. While it is a shared duty, this area is where you should expect most from your CEO, in terms of attention, investment and staff culture, especially in high risk services.
Do you have any advice around mergers?
From experience of collaboration, it is important that the governance structures and reporting are agreed at the outset, not just MoUs around service delivery and EFT.
Equally in a merger, beyond the due diligence process, there must be genuine alignment of values which should include an agreed priority on high quality governance.
Do you have any advice on board members raising money?
I think Board members can contribute their maximum impact on revenue by opening doors, networks, contacts and resources, financial or otherwise. These are contributions that are far more significant than selling raffle tickets or giving an annual personal donation. Some things money can’t buy: Love, reputation and job vacancies for unemployed teens.
Do you have any advice around the Board’s relationship with the Chief Executive Officer?
The Chair will likely set the tone of this relationship. But both parties need to be a good communicators who are generous with their availability. But regardless of documented codes of conduct and roles, poor relationships often stifle the potential of a NFP.
Common observations include:
- A competitive or secretive CEO who fails to utilise the skills and potential of the Board. They mistake a “volunteer” board with an “amateur” board.
- Board members who frustrate the CEOs leadership with meddling and gossip
- Chairs who don’t motivate or lead so the Board is just a moribund dead weight on the CEO
Boards who are overly reliant on the CEO for advice and judgement leading to “Board capture” and a loss of independent oversight from the Board, who ultimately cannot delegate core duties including CEO appraisal.
Do you have any advice on sustainable business/organisation models?
Moving from decades of government funding to a more competitive Not for Profit market place now challenges us to be more savvy about how we price our services, measuring their true cost, impact and value. To be sustainable we need to longer term financial projections and deeper environmental scanning so we can see the iceberg early.
The sector is pinning a lot of hope on social enterprise and large, scalable models but to succeed it is our core mission that needs to be both sustainable and proven.