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Is winding up on your board’s agenda? Maybe it should be.


7 March 2022 at 4:47 pm
Maggie Coggan
“We can spend so much time responding to the immediate challenges, that in lots of ways, these urgent needs crowd out the really important strategic conversations that organisations need to have” 


Maggie Coggan | 7 March 2022 at 4:47 pm


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Is winding up on your board’s agenda? Maybe it should be.
7 March 2022 at 4:47 pm

“We can spend so much time responding to the immediate challenges, that in lots of ways, these urgent needs crowd out the really important strategic conversations that organisations need to have” 

While staying afloat has been the priority for most for-purpose organisations over the past two years, charity leaders say long-term strategic thinking must not be put on the back-burner. 

On Thursday, charity and not-for-profit leaders came together to speak at the 2022 Australian Governance Summit, reflecting on pandemic-related disruptions the sector had faced, as well as the areas organisations and their boards need to focus on in years to come if they are going to recover. 

Moderated by Phil Butler, NFP sector leader at Australian Institute of Company Directors, the panel featured Paul Ronalds, CEO of Save the Children Australia; Paul Ryan, chair of Ballarat Community Health; and Anne Cross AM, chair of the Uniting Church in Australia Redress. 

Ronalds said that in dealing with the constant and immense challenges of the past couple of years, it was easy for NFP organisations and their boards to lose sight of the bigger picture. 

“One of the great strengths of the not-for-profit sector is its resilience, and we’ve seen that in spades over the last couple of years in the way the sector has had to respond to the challenges of COVID, amongst other things,” Ronalds told Pro Bono News.

“But I do think it can be a two-edged sword. We can spend so much time responding to the immediate challenges, that in lots of ways, these urgent needs crowd out the really important strategic conversations that organisations need to have.” 

He said that during these times of stress for organisations, these strategic conversations needed to start at a board level. 

“Often, management is so busy responding to the challenges that it’s really important for the board to be asking themselves those more strategic questions that then support management,” he said. 

He said these questions included addressing the need for the kinds of services an organisation was providing and how that need might have changed over the past couple of years. 

“A really good example from Save the Children is that up until now, our focus on child safeguarding has predominantly been about their physical safety… But actually, we know that a significant number of safeguarding issues now arise from digital technologies,” he said.

“With that in mind, we’ve significantly shifted our strategic focus onto digital based child safeguarding, including deals with digital providers of various safeguarding services right around the world.” 

Putting mergers, acquisitions and winding-down back on the agenda  

Research has shown that a major criticism of and challenge for the for-purpose sector has been a resistance to mergers and acquisitions or a winding down of services completely. 

During the panel discussion Ryan issued a challenge that many organisations had been focused on survival instead of fulfilling their mission, which for some organisations meant not existing at all. 

“I think a successful mission is when you know when to stop,” Ryan said. 

He added that many boards were not thinking that far in front, and were instead focusing on the day-to-day. 

“I wonder whether COVID took away our imagination because everyone was trying to survive,” he said. 

“Is winding up on your agenda?” 

When it came to mergers and acquisitions, Ronalds said that a change in perception was needed. 

“I think that often boards and management teams see a discussion around a merger as almost a recognition of failure, which I’ve always found very, very odd,” he said. 

“I mean, in the corporate sector, if you get taken over or if you merge, it’s often seen as being a fantastic outcome for the organisation and something for management and the board to congratulate themselves on.” 

Planning for success 

Ronalds said that a good starting point for organisations was for the CEO and chair of the board to figure out strategic challenges for the year ahead.  

“You might map out your year’s board meetings, making sure that you’re dealing with a key strategic challenge at each of them and putting that at the front of the agenda so that it doesn’t get swamped by a discussion,” he said. 

“I see some of the best boards having almost a sort of two part board meeting where they have a more focused strategic conversation at the start and then move into the rest of the agenda after that.” 


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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