This tongue twister of a workshop title comes from a Governance Institute paper called “Cultural Markers: Assessing, measuring and Improving Culture in the Charitable Sector”. I think it really captures the essence of good governance and why it’s so important and this was the focus of this workshop at our Conference.
We had a discussion about what good governance is, how it’s achieved, and some of the reasons it can be so difficult. Some of the fundamentals of a well-run board that workshop attendees identified were: trustees who understand their role, transparency, trustees who share the values of the organisation, good policies and structures – and ensuring they’re followed, inclusion, and a culture of healthy debate. Whilst these points are the ideal, we also identified some of the challenges to achieving these such as:
- trustees who lack time or commitment;
- trustees who don’t understand the role;
- disinterest or lack of understanding of the finances of the organisation;
- poor organisation – board papers not going out on time;
- not having a good understanding of the risks to the organisation or how to mitigate them;
- and the constitution not being referred to, understood, or being out of date.
Some of these can seem fairly minor, but in fact, they can create significant weak points in the organisation that can have serious implications.
We also discussed the importance of the relationship between the board and the senior management of organisations. Everyone had different ways of ensuring that relationship worked well – for some it meant having occasional board meetings where senior management don’t attend, for others they have a trustee only meeting for the first 30 minutes and senior management join after that. It highlighted the fact that very often there are not hard and fast rules for organisations to achieve the ideals of good governance – it’s up to the trustees to figure out what works best and to have the flexibility for that to change over time.
The workshop attendees were people from organisations just starting out and people who have been on boards or worked for charities for a long time, very small entirely volunteer-run organisations and larger ones. With such a diverse range of experience in the room, it was a good opportunity to have discussions about common issues and practical solutions that we found have helped in real life situations. As a bonus, our icebreaker was to name a favourite film so I’m hoping everyone came away with some good movie suggestions for the weekend!
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