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Governance

Updated 25/11/13

Follow the trail

This page

This brings together various issues around 'governance' - How authority and responsibility is shared between senior staff and the management committee/board/trustees.

Elsewhere

The subject interacts with just about every other under the Briefings heading in some way, but in particular see:



Introduction

Governance – the systems and processes concerned with ensuring the overall direction, effectiveness, supervision and accountability of an organisation. from Cornforth via ChangeUp (2004)

NB We will use 'The Board' to equate with Management Committee, Board of Trustees or Directors or any other title the governing body is called.

Governance is very much a live issue in the charity world at present. Both via SORP (accounting standards) and greater monitoring, the Charity Commission is out to ensure The Board are clear on their legal responsibilities and how these are carried through by the activities of staff or volunteers. With increased contracting of care and other services to the voluntary sector, rather than the commercial or public, journalists, politicians and commentators are recognising the management weaknesses which have previously been ignored because of the 'good cause' perspective.

The Board, however composed or called, has ultimate legal responsibility for the organisation. Much may be delegated, but there must be clear lines of authority - key is defining responsibility reporting, to ensure that information of the right type and detail for the organisation's size and complexity gets to Board members in a reasonable timescale. Boards should meet frequently enough to handle the resulting workload, although sub-committees and officers can play a part.

Strategy, policy matters and monitoring of efficiency and effectiveness are often quoted as the function of the Board. Operational details should be left to staff and volunteers. However, particularly in smaller organisations, it is not easy to be so clear cut. Board members may be closely involved in the work and will often comment on their experience at the 'front line'. Here they should try to recognise that they are really wearing a different hat, as a volunteer or ordinary member, and not confuse it with their essential Board role.

Functions can be classified under five headings, according to Margaret Harris (Professor of Vol Sector Organisation at Aston University Business School, quoted in Voluntary Organisations and Social Policy):

Checklist for Trustees/Management Committee members

Types of Governing body

Five 'types' of governing body have been identified. This approach can be used to examine how it relates to the rest of the organisation, and management consequences. (Research by Vic Murray and Pat Bradshaw-Camball as reproduced in Open University Business School course B789.)

The Recent Picture

From research done by Chris Cornforth at Open University Business School, using postal questionnaires sent to 2797 charities, with a 26% response rate:
- Only about 35% of charities provide job descriptions for board members.
- Only 23% provide some sort of initial training or induction for new board members.
- These percentages are somewhat higher for the larger charities (the range goes from 20% for the smallest to 77% for the largest!).
- Average frequency of board meetings was between 5 and 7 a year.
- The size of board in small to medium charities is increasing, but decreasing in larger charities.
- The average size of boards increases with organisation size, going from under 9 in the smallest charities, up to almost 21 for the largest.

The full results from this research are in 'Recent Trends in Charity Governance and Trusteeship' published May 01 by National Council for Voluntary Organisations, ISBN 07199 15910, 12.50.

Further Resources

Printed

See Trustee publications. Also our magazine listings re Governance bi-monthly.

On the Web

NCVO's Governance resources.

Governance pages is from research body ARVAC " information on governance and management committees for community groups and small voluntary organisations".

Kingston Smith have a Toolkit for Good Governance.

Governance in the Jewish voluntary sector Report for Jewish Policy Research, 2001.

Founder Syndrome. Seemingly an international issue, we recognise the picture given in a piece on Help4Nonprofits. We would add to the problems associated with founders carrying on running an organisation for too long: carrying a sense of history and mindset which may make it difficult to recognise how things have changed; thinking that nobody else can do what they do (possibly true but this perception is often wrong) when there are other ways that the organisation can (and perhaps should) work.