Great governance - what are you waiting for?

As the old year fades into memory, the Third Sector as a whole realises that the issue of less than great governance is a price that no organisation should be prepared to pay.  In fact, as last year’s very public examples demonstrate, having less than optimum arrangements does organisations no good at all.  It can make them stagnant and internalised and can impede the important work they want and need to carry out on behalf of members, those they represent or those they exist to help.  More than a few organisations, or their controlling boards, suspect that things could be better but haven’t tackled the problem yet.  So what should they be doing right now?

The answer is to agree that this is the year they get it right.  In most cases, all that is required is a review and, potentially, a small refresh or adjustment.  Governance reviews should ideally happen every couple of years but sadly many organisations will admit to a dozen or so years having passed since the last one.  Granted, in some cases, something a little more root and branch will be the conclusion but it’s still no reason to put off starting to look at how things are going.

Unfortunately, results aren’t achieved by wishful thinking.  It takes a serious ‘stand-up-and-be-counted’ moment for a Chief Executive or a board member to insist that the work must start today.  It is so easy to put off in the general busy and worry of day-to-day business.  It is too easy to adopt Scarlett O’Hara’s attitude of ‘I’ll think about it tomorrow.  After all, tomorrow is another day’.  We had plenty of examples, both minor and horrendous, of the results of that attitude last year.  It is worth remembering that members of governing bodies must accept overall responsibility for proper administration of their organisation as well as having a responsibility to act  in the best interests of the organisation at all times.

Starting something that has the potential to create significant change can be very intimidating.  But you might find that it’s not really that bad at all. We also know that having only internal voices in the conversation can limit your thinking.  So just pick up the phone and talk to someone external and completely unbiased who will be able to help you make a start.  

"Susie’s knowledge, her perception and ability to translate into a new Corporate Governance environment which should stand for the next ten years, was exemplary. The Board and Management of FSDF will continue to seek Susie’s advice from time to time on specific issues, but believe that given the quality of work already completed, that will be on rare occasions.”                                                  - Chris Sturman FCILT, FRSA, Chief Executive, Food Storage & Distribution Federation

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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The dreaded acronym - it can easily confuse

Have you ever had one of those days when just about everything you touched or came to your attention was bigger, more complicated, more difficult than it, at first, appeared? Someone asks an innocent question or an email arrives and your first answer needs qualifying in some way and then that answer triggers another train of thought and so it goes until you wish you hadn’t answered the phone or opened the email in the first place! At  the close of just such a day a while ago, it occurred to me that at the root of this type of problem we often find the issue of implied, implicit or assumed understanding.  If your understanding is not clear in the early stages of the conversation or transaction then you will labour under the misunderstanding for quite a while, usually until someone realises that you have been talking at cross-purposes.

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PAYING IT FORWARD OR GIVING SOMETHING BACK

"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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WANTED – Brave, forward thinking NfP organisation

Back in 2008 Kevin Kelly put forward the idea of 1KTF – One Thousand True Fans (http://bit.ly/2PQqaE) – as the sustainable number of individuals required to support an artist to survive by buying their artistic output or products directly.  These fans are, in turn, surrounded by much larger numbers of Lesser Fans who are not quite as devoted but can be persuaded to get involved.  One of the ways in which this works is for fans to be involved in pre-financing, where the artist makes a statement such as “When I get £xxx in donations I will release the next novel in this series”. This should translate really well as a fundraising route for professional associations and membership organisations which already have a dedicated fan base - their membership.

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Professionalism at work in the holiday season

Just as I was settling down on the train yesterday for a nice relaxed ride home, I overheard the lady next to me say to her travelling companion ‘Did you know Christmas Day is three weeks tomorrow?’  Talk about panic stations!  Am I ready – I am not!  Have I done anything about anything – I have not!  This has all the makings of a Christmas Eve whirlwind  but I have pulled this particular rabbit out a hat before so I am not overly worried.  Not just yet anyway! Organisations, however, need to be just a little bit more prepared and, in difficult times, will hopefully have been a bit inventive this year on the thorny question of  WHAT  TO  DO ABOUT THE  CHRISTMAS  PARTY.  An interesting subset of that discussion will also have revolved around bonuses or rewards for a year of effort and, hopefully, successes.


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The volunteer's new clothes - with apologies to the emperor!

For those of us who work in the not-for-profit sector, either as salaried employees or as committed volunteers, there was probably a moment when we made a choice – nfp or commercial – and the potential reasons for those choices are too many and various to list. For volunteers the years of involvement with a particular organisation or charity will pass quite quickly.  In the first instance it is interesting and exciting and it feels privileged to be on the ‘inside’, with your voice being heard and, hopefully, your opinions being valued.

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Applause, choices and cautionary tales

In earlier blog posts I have talked about the choices that organisations must make at the moment, examining their current structures to provide the best possible support to members.  Current discussions about how professional associations and membership organisations can survive in the current climate mean that there has been a slow realisation of the danger presented by several key factors.  The impact of current economic realities on members’ wallets;  the impact of new social media providing alternate communication routes which can bypass formal organisations; the negative impact of very public failures of professional standards; changing demographics; all of these are leaving some organisations exposed to falling membership numbers.


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Fairer access - Time to bite the bullet

Congratulations to Alan Milburn on opening up a laudable cross-sectoral discussion about what our childrens’ futures could be.His newly published report (Unleashing Aspiration - The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions) provides some important statistics about current and historical routes into the professions and offers a large number of conclusions and recommendations.

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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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