An effective board should lie at the heart of charity resilience

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Steph Taylor argues board development is vital for charity success

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5th December 2017 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

What do charity chief executives see as the most pressing challenges facing their organisations? If you work in the charity sector, the answer is unlikely to come as a huge surprise. Our Social Landscape 2017 report found that income generation was at the top of charity leaders’ concerns, with more than half (57%) citing it as one of their top three challenges. Reduced public or government funding was cited by 34%.

Charities face a tough task to achieve financial sustainability while the demand for services is increasing. Reassuringly, chief executives are clearly up for the challenge. Four in five (80%) said they were collaborating, and an even greater proportion (86%) were actively attempting to diversify their income and funding streams.

But are their boards of the same mind-set?

Steph Taylor

Steph Taylor

Through our work to help charities become more resilient, we hear a lot about these financial challenges in practice. Each and every time, getting the board right in terms of membership and function, has a huge bearing on a charity’s ability to succeed.

A good board sets and maintains vision, mission and values, develops strategy, ensures accountability and promotes the organisation. A great board does this with an awareness of the external environment, an evidence-based approach to decision-making, regard for others operating around them, and the ability to offer challenges as well as support to the senior team.

The priority a charity places on board development may be one of the most important factors in its ability to tackle the big issues highlighted by our report. They need to be confident that the right people are making the right decisions, at the right times, and that they are focused on ensuring a long-term impact on the charitable cause at hand.

So how does a charity get this right? Our work across charities of all sizes tells us that they need to be thinking about:

Recruitment: plan the process and carry out a skills audit to understand the current skills and experience within your board. Have you got people who can do what’s needed in the current external environment? Do they have a diversity that’s broadly representative of the community, users and members your organisation serves?

Induction: a good induction is often one of the main factors behind charity trustees becoming engaged with the organisation and staying on. Continued engagement and information is crucial to getting the most benefit from trustees’ skills, expertise and networks.

Review: it is crucial to developing existing trustees to ensure you maximise their impact, both as individuals and as a board. Effective boards I’ve worked with hold regular trustee reviews every six months and routinely ask each other, “how well is the board working?” and, “are the skills and experience of each trustee being used effectively?”

Having a board functioning at the top of its game won’t bring back government funding or reduce the demand for services, but it will mean a charity is in the best place it can be to face the challenges of the present day and beyond.

Steph Taylor is senior manager, charity advisory and grant-making at the Charities Aid Foundation