The board member’s tool kit

Forget hammers, screwdrivers and spanners, competent and valuable board members need a different set of tools to carry as they go about their governance activities. Board members of non-profit organisations in particular need a reliable set of resources, abilities, or skills that will assist an individual do the job for which he/she is engaged to do. As far as tool kits go, it’s more like a Swiss Army knife combined with a multi-sized set of Allen keys – practical, mobile and essential for tackling the kind of problems that look simple enough until you see all the pieces laid out and realise there are no instructions…

Board members of non-profit organisations face the biggest challenges. They generally operate in the toughest areas (e.g. human services, social justice, community services). They struggle, largely through funding constraints, to attract and retain good people. They have little or no access to capital from traditional sources; and they rely on volunteers to provide leadership and governance.

Yet, despite these constraints, non-profits survive and continue to provide invaluable services to our community. Good governance is critical to the long-term success of this sector and the director’s tool kit can assist in this journey.

Here are some of the key components every board member should have in their kit – either in hard copy or stored on the cloud:

  • The annual agenda
  • The strategic plan
  • The risk management plan
  • The performance management framework
  • A personal commitment to the governance role

 

The annual agenda

The annual agenda ensures that the board deals with all the matters it should deal with during the year in a logical and sequential manner. It provides an overview of what lies ahead that the board must consider and enables both board members and management adequate time to prepare for and consider each of these matters.

Board meetings should be set in advance by mutual agreement, further assisting in the information gathering and analysis required for strategic management of the organisation.

Good governance is not a here and now matter; it is about the long-term sustainability and, therefore, must be considered in the approparite context. An annual agenda is a very useful tool to assist this process. 

 
The Strategic Plan

Much has been written in past columns about the content and importance of the strategic plan. Suffice to say here, the board is responsible for the development and implementation of this document, with its key components being:

  • The vision, mission & values statements
  • Long-term goals
  • Strategies to achieve success
  • Measures that will enable members to determine how the organisation is tracking against its plan

Every decision a board makes should be referenced to the strategic plan, utilising the following criteria: consistency with and relevance to the vision and mission; do we have the capacity and capabilities to implement the strategies; and will the outcomes contribute to our sustainability priority?

The strategic plan is the “first among equals” in the director’s tool kit of good governance.

 

The risk management plan

Over the past 10 years, this document and board responsibility has risen to such a status that it sits alongside the strategic plan in terms of importance and focus for the board and the senior leadership team.

Risk management begins with five basic questions:

  • What can go wrong?
  • How likely is it to go wrong?
  • What will be the consequences if it goes wrong?
  • What will we do to prevent it?
  • What will we do if it happens?

The board must take a leadership role in the development of this plan and then incorporate the ongoing monitoring and review into its monthly board agenda. How the board addresses risk management will set the scene and standard for the whole organisation, therefore, to ensure both the right culture and meeting compliance requirements, risk management is a key component of the director’s tool kit and good governance.

 

The performance management plan

The performance management plan is about accountability - a means by which the organisation, the chief executive and the board itself, is held accountable for what each is responsible for in the implementation of the strategic plan.

Without a performance management plan, the ongoing quest to improve at all levels of the organisation is made that much more difficult. Benchmarks have to be consistent with the objectives and goals established in the strategic plan to enable all concerned to determine progress and identify areas for improvement, with all activities being undertaken within the values and principles that underpin the preferred organisational culture.

This final document closes the loop of a director’s responsibility – plan, implement, review and improve, then start again.

 

A personal commitment to the governance role

There is no document or plan for this part of the tool kit. This is about the individual and their attitude. Are they prepared to do what is required to meet the standards of governance excellence? Are they willing to commit the time to prepare, contribute and provide leadership through example?

There is no room for fence sitters and resume builders in the governance of non-profit (or for profit for that matter) organisations – the responsibility is too high and the load too heavy to be left to just a few. Personal commitment sits alongside diversity, skills and experience in the selection criteria for an effective board.

 For further information, go to www.governancetoday.com

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