Why non-profits must undertake regular reviews

In the wake of the fallout from the Kids Company shambles and other more recent implosions, there are two learning points for the non-profit sector which are worth highlighting. Although most organisations in the membership and associations space have trustees who are far more engaged and (in my experience) capable than those involved with KidsCo, this sad tale has highlighted two problems which our organisations can have in common with service charities - Founders syndrome and infrequent reviews of Board/strategy/procedures. 

Firstly, Kidsco demonstrated that most unfortunate circumstance where the passion and drive of the organisation’s founder becomes an insurmountable block to progress if they are unwilling to hand over the reins to those who know how to run the organisation with efficiency.  Effective strategic and succession planning by a capable board should sort this issue out in a diplomatic way.  Running membership organisations and professional associations is a specific skillset which is not reliant on having a background in the specific context within which the organisation works, i.e. you don’t need to be a qualified kid’s social worker to run an organisation which provides children’s services.  That knowledge is the additional layer which completes the skills package.

Secondly, any and all organisations benefit from regular reviews of their activities, either in part or in total.  For non-profits, the need for regular reviews of board strategy and the procedures linking the board to the staff, along with reviews of board members’ effectiveness, understanding and involvement will ensure that the organisation is functioning at maximum effectiveness.

If you have the least doubt that your trustees/Directors are not as up to date as they should be or are not functioning at full capacity on behalf of the organisation then now would be a very good time to consider running an objective review of how they work and how effective they really are. Some recent reviews I've facilitated have demonstrated that even seemingly small adjustments can have major benefits.  Others have shown that it was time for some more radical changes to be implemented.  The common factor was having a totally objective eye providing an overview of the status quo.

If the idea of having an outsider looking into your activities feels uncomfortable, it would perhaps be wise to consider what you might be forced to rectify later.  So make that call, you will not regret it. 

Why we all need support - especially CEOs

This month I’m returning to a subject that is as important as it gets for the ongoing welfare of non-profit organisations – how the leaders within this very varied sector are able to flourish as individuals while remaining in charge of the destiny of their organisations. 

It is almost impossible to pick up an article or book about successful leaders and entrepreneurs these days without finding a story or quote about how that individual derived enormous benefit from having a mentor at some stage of their career.  Mentoring has been going on for a very long time – famous relationships include Socrates and Plato, Aristotle and Alexander the Great, and more recently Freddie Laker and Richard Branson.  Indeed, government statistics show that 70% of small businesses whose leaders receive mentoring survive for five years or more, which is double the rate compared with non-mentored entrepreneurs and, in addition, they are 20% more likely to experience growth. 

We know that a CEO crisis line has just published data to say that it has received twice as many calls this year as last.  So, if it is true that the leaders within our sector are increasingly aware of the need to run their organisations as successful businesses while also being under incredible pressure from all sides, and if it’s also true that leaders of all kinds benefit from having a mentor, why do so very few Chief Executives, senior management or Board Chairs have mentors?


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Why Professional Competence is all about Comfort and Security

I’ve spent the past few weeks living away from home while we had some plumbing issues dealt with.  Now I’m back and settling once again into my own space. While returning my home to some semblance of order, it is time to take stock of an acutely uncomfortable experience which has unexpectedly offered me an insight into the value of how we use our professional competences. 

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R.E.D. and G.O.L.D. – an auspicious focus for the coming Year of the Dragon

Tomorrow sees the start of the Chinese Year of the Dragon, believed to be the most auspicious year in the calendar, with red and gold as the auspicious colours for the New Year.  They are also great shorthand to think about how we approach the coming year and what it may hold for us, both at work and in our personal lives.

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"The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself. "- Oscar Wilde

As the increasing longevity of the population means that the government continues to struggle with the question of where to peg the age at which we might all receive our bus passes, I recently attended the festivities surrounding the retirement of a long-serving colleague.  Listening to the stories relating her personal history to patterns and methods of working which have long ceased to be relevant in a modern environment, it occurred to me that, over time, her capacity to adapt had been severely tested but that, in amongst the other elements of her day to day tasks, she had found the time to train and assist those around her.

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Reach out – I’ll be there

The title of this post is an old song title from the Four Tops.  It’s amazing how old song lyrics can get you thinking.  The song is all about support systems and asking for help when you need it and, hearing the song the other day, that thought collided with some statistics I heard a few days ago. You can’t possibly have missed the fact that it is only a few weeks to the holiday season and you are probably starting to think about what you might be giving to those around you as gifts – well you will be soon if you haven’t started just yet! There is one person, however, that most of us don’t include on our gift list and that is ourselves.

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Thriving not just surviving

Well, after yesterday's budget, it's official!  It's going to be tough and it is going to stay that way for a few more years.  I don't think that's a surprise for anyone. However, we are all going to have to ride this out and find a way to prosper personally and professionally, whatever is going on around us.  What do I mean by prosper?  It's that feeling that tells us that, despite whatever else is going on in the world, actually we are OK.  This is not just a question of money and material circumstances but about how we deal with the day to day problems that we are all facing at the moment, about how we are with our friends and colleagues, about the balances that we are able to find for ourselves in amongst the current chaos.

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I am not a political animal and I promised myself that this election would not appear on these pages but sometimes you just have to admit that enough is enough.  The behaviour of  The Right Honourable Gordon Brown, MP, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (to give him his full title) demonstrates two professionalism issues very clearly and could not be ignored without a few comments. The first issue is, of course, standards in public life and levels of ‘Trustworthiness’.  This election has thrown up some horrible examples of individuals behaving in an unacceptable way and clearly having learned nothing from the public anger in the recent expenses debacle.  They have demonstrated contempt for the public they are supposed to serve and a belief in their own importance which appears to override any moral constraints which ought to be an integral part of the concept of public service and which seems to have eluded them altogether.  They are, in no particular order:

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Standards not noise

In the last few years the advent of an assortment social media applications has meant that many professional associations have been quick to see the possibilities offered by these new communication and networking routes and have begun to utilise as many as possible. They offer obvious benefits and opportunities to access large numbers of people, elicit opinions or motivate through almost instant communication of ideas. Yet it is worth questioning how many of these organisations will have taken the time to identify the strategic intent or benefit of these activities, both for the organisation and for the membership as a whole.

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