BLOG: Ensure You are ‘Governed’ by Your Community
Thursday, 2nd July 2015 at 11:24 am
Not for Profits need to think more about a ‘Community of Governance’ and not just the sole responsibility for Governance laying with the Board of Directors, writes Doug Taylor from UnitingCare NSW & ACT in his final Blog in a series on how Not For Profits can stop being ‘hollowed out’ by Government.
Over the past two weeks I have posed two ways we as Not For Profits may work with government but stay true to our causes and mission. Our causes are fundamental to why we exist; it is what sets us apart for simply being another department arms or part of Government’s machinery.
In my first two contributions, based in the observations made by Doug Hynd a PhD candidate at ACU has made, there are three key things an organisation should do so it is not ‘hollowed out’ by government; the first was to ‘Answer the Why’, the second was all about ‘striking the right balance between people and capital'. The final, is perhaps the most important – a Not For Profit must ensure it is ‘governed’ by Community.
Governance has rightly got lots more attention in recent years, particularly with some of the ‘epic fails’ of the 2000’s in the Corporate Sector. There’s no shortage of places Executive and Non-Executive Directors can go to be trained in all manner of things Governance related and rightly so. An effective Board is the most important control against an organisation losing its way by being ‘hollowed out’ through reliance on significant Government funding. This is because the Board are the organisational custodians and stewards of the mission on behalf of the members and community that is served.
The problem is too many Boards have lost, or intentionally lose, the connection to their members and community who are often more actively connected to the organisations historical and day to day mission. This is why I think we need to think more about a ‘Community of Governance’ and not just the sole responsibility for Governance laying with the Board of Directors.
I’ve been privileged to be part of organisations that really understand the importance of their Board engaging their membership and community, but sadly I’ve also been part of organisations that see them as irrelevant and actively seek to marginalise them because they are perceived to not add value.
It’s a delicate balance because we do need organisations that can adapt effectively to our changing environment and at times complex Governance structures can slow things down. That’s no reason to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ because our membership and community provide incredibly useful insights that balance the perspectives of professionals. The danger of not having a good ‘Community of Governance’ is that we run the risk of becoming mono-cultural and subject to ‘group think. Diversity and difference create more robust institutions as well as another pool of resources that can be helpful in attempting to diversify.
We are exploring this at UnitingCare NSW & ACT at the moment. As a large organisation with over 10,000 employees and volunteers it’s a challenge to stay true to our mission to inspire people, enliven communities and confront injustice. Whilst our Board plays a key leadership role in this regard they know they need help given the size and complexity of our organisation.
That’s why we are developing UnitingCare Councils throughout the state who will help us better listen to our communities and also be our advocates so we can develop deeper stronger relationships and not just a transactional activities. Its early days but we are comforted by the fact that many others are exploring similar initiative and are committed to ensuring these endeavours are not simply tokenism.
The challenge contemporary Not For Profits face is in reality a question about purpose, what are we in the business of? Providing services or improving the lives of people and building stronger communities.
It reminds me of something I heard Greg Hywood, CEO of Fairfax, say when reflecting the challenge of leading Fairfax through a difficult transition period. He said, “the leadership challenge is solving the right problem… our print customers were still there but we have to be a digital first company as our business was news journalism, not print.” Similarly Not For Profits must be clear on their purpose and I would argue that it has to be more than simply providing services on behalf of Government.
Assuming we agree on the purpose of Not For Profits, I hope that these three strategies to stop your Not For Profit from being ‘hollowed out’ by Government funding have been useful. I fear that too many of our organisations no longer have a mission that overarches their funding but regardless this is food for thought.
To that end I’m reminded of a quote I once heard that underscores the need to stay focused on purpose from Robert Menzies that said: "Modern history is, as you all know, full of examples of great movements that disappeared because they ceased to have any genuine reason for existence."
About the author: Doug Taylor is the Director for Strategic Engagement at UnitingCare NSW & ACT. He has spent more than 20 years working in the social sector and is also a Board member of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, the Australian Centre for Social Innovation and the Centre for Social Impact. He tweets at @dougtayloruw and writes a blog at https://blogaworkinglife.wordpress.com