Back to articles

Last updated June 14, 2017

New Zealand has nearly 27,500 registered charities, all with Governance Boards overseeing the success of their organisation. However, no two Boards operate in exactly the same way and there is a vast difference between Boards that operate well and those that don’t.

While the general roles and responsibilities of a Board are the same regardless of the organisation, it is the way that Boards choose to carry out these roles and responsibilities that makes the difference. When you look at the most effective Non-Profit Boards you’ll find that there are several practices that they have in common. The most effective Non-Profit Boards:

Appoint New Trustees for Both Skill and Passion
Many organisations have stumbled because they appointed well-meaning, passionate Trustees with no practical governance skills. But equally, organisations consistently lose skilled Trustees when they don’t appoint people who have a genuine belief in the cause. What started out as a ‘nice thing to do’, can soon become a chore if the Trustee does not resonate with the organisations Vision and Mission. High functioning Boards recognise both skill and passion are vital attributes for Trustees, and know that one without the other has limited value.

Have an Induction Programme for New Trustees
I’ve lost count of the Non-Profit Managers or CEO’s who have told me that their Trustees have no idea what they are doing. It can be immensely frustrating for a Manager and an enormous source of conflict, but often it’s not the fault of the Trustees. Ineffective Trustees are usually the ones who were persuaded onto the Board with a promise of ‘you won’t have to do much’. Then the Manager gets upset because that’s exactly what they’re doing.

High functioning Boards have a well-designed induction process that clearly outlines the roles and responsibilities of a Board and the individual expectations of Trustees. The induction process allows Trustees to properly get to know the organisation, its rules, its history and its Vision for the future. Without these things it is impossible for Trustees to do their job well.

Have a Term of Service
Even the most open-minded people start to wear blinkers when they have been involved with an organisation for a long time. So regardless of how much skill or passion a Trustee has, there comes a time when they need to step aside to allow fresh perspectives and new ideas to be explored.

High functioning Boards know that a Term of Service needs to be set from the start, otherwise egos get bruised and long-standing Trustees can feel they have the right to stay on forever. Having a Term of Service means that the length of tenure is not personal, but rather a pre-determined policy for the good of the whole organisation. Having a Term of Service also means the Board can plan for replacements and shoulder-tap potential candidates ahead of time. 

Formally Review Their Performance
I often hear stories of ‘Boards Behaving Badly’ or individual Trustees not pulling their weight, but so often these stories don’t make it back to the people who actually matter – the Trustees themselves.

High functioning Boards understand that they have a job to do, and just like staff and volunteers, their performance needs to be reviewed on a regular basis. Not only does this hold the Board and individual Trustees accountable for their actions, it highlights any skill gaps or areas where training might be required.

The performance review process will vary between organisations, but if you want your Board to be effective and stay effective, it is essential that some kind of review process is in place. At the very least have Trustees carry out a basic self and peer review on the following issues:

  • Understanding of the Organisations Constitution
  • Belief in the Vision and Mission of the Organisation
  • Contribution to Discussions
  • Practice of Due Diligence in Decision Making
  • Use of Skills, Networks and Resources for the Benefit of the Trust
  • Commitment to Ongoing Training and Development
  • Focus on Future Planning
  • Understanding of the Organisation’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Risks

Run Great Meetings
The Board Meeting is not the only place a Trustee carries out their role, but it is certainly where a great deal of discussion and decision making occurs. High functioning Boards know the importance of having sound meeting policies and procedures, and ensures every Trustee adheres to a meeting code of conduct. Some practices for effective meetings are:

  • Sending the agenda out no less that one week prior to the meeting, along with a ‘reminder’ copy of the last minutes.
  • Holding Board meetings no more often than once per month, running for no more than 90 minutes at a time.
  • Ensuring every person has read the relevant documents before the meeting begins so that they can positively contribute to the discussion.
  • Having at least 15 minutes at every Board meeting where the CEO is absent. This allows for any matters regarding the CEO to be discussed without conflict or prejudice.
  • Ensuring minutes are distributed within 24 hours of the meeting taking place.

Of course there are other practices that help Boards collectively, and Trustees individually, become more effective in their role, but these are a really good place to start. How does your Board measure up?

Kerri Tilby-Price
Kerri is a Facilitator / Trainer with Exult and has over 20 years experience working in and for the community sector.

If you think this article would be useful for your members, you are welcome to use it on your website or in your newsletter. We just ask that you let us know where it is being used, and that you acknowledge our website at the bottom of the article. If you are using the article online, please include a link to our homepage.