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How Healthy Is Your Not for Profit Board? These 10 Questions Will Give You the Answer

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How Healthy Is Your Not for Profit Board? These 10 Questions Will Give You the Answer

The boards of most charities and Not For Profit (NFP) organisations are largely made up of volunteers with levels of experience ranging from novice to senior professionals. Sometimes this makes for a wonderful mix of skills that guides and directs an organisation beautifully. And other times it doesn’t.

If the group of people at the helm impacts directly on the wellbeing of the organisation, it’s imperative that they are themselves in good health. Like many health issues, a range of symptoms will generally appear before the need for help becomes apparent.

So rather than waiting until emergency care is required, use these 10 questions to assess the health of your current board.

1. Do your board members understand their legal duties?

It’s a common misconception that volunteer board members can’t be held personally responsible for decisions made by the board, however there are a handful of legal duties which must be met. Failure to do so, exposes individuals to liability. A list of those duties can be found HERE.

2. Are they able to explain the purpose of the organisation and are they invested in those objectives?

Board members are required by law to make decisions that are within the scope and purpose of the organisation. This becomes particularly difficult if they are not able to explain succinctly what they actually are.

3. Do they receive regular financial reports?

Board members can’t make responsible financial decisions if they don’t know what funds are available and how expenses are being met.

4. Do they attend and engage in meetings?

For a range of reasons positions on the board are often filled by people who have become too busy with other commitments to attend meetings, or who fill a seat but remain uninvolved in decision making. Steering an organisation requires active participation.

5. Do they have a conflict of interest?

Sometimes conflicts are known from the outset, and other times they arise as new projects or initiatives are pursued. A conflict doesn’t mean the board member must step down, however the circumstances of the conflict must be disclosed to the board and then managed appropriately.

6. Does your board collectively have the skills required to keep the organisation moving forward?

A healthy board will have a mix of professional skills, practical experience, passion and pragmatism. If the skillset is lacking, actively seek out board members with those qualities.

7. Are your board members encouraged to contribute or do they simply rubber stamp agenda items? 

Boards are not immune from bullying, harassment and power imbalances. All board members should feel free to discuss their concerns without fear of retribution.

8. Do your board members publicly share views that are at odds with the objectives of the organisation?

In the days before social media, board members may have harboured resentment, prejudices and dissenting views that never saw the light of day. Consider the impact a public airing of these views could have on your organisation and the steps you might take to prevent that from happening.

9. Would your board members be receptive to training?

This may be all it takes to ensure everyone is on the same page.

10. Are your board members dynamic and innovative?

Sustainability and efficiency will often require creative change through partnerships, collaboration, utilising technology and implementing new ways of doing things. A healthy board will take that all in their stride.

Ideally, the answers to these questions should leave you feeling encouraged and confident that your organisation is in good hands. If it doesn’t, now is the time to act. You could use this list of questions as a checklist to remedy the shortfalls, but two useful resources that may also come in handy are Justice Connect and Community Compass.

Justice Connect offer free advice to NFP organisations and their website contains a wealth of information. Community Compass have a range of services but a particularly useful resource is their BoardLINK which connects NFP’s with potential board members.

Just as our own health requires constant monitoring, so too does the health of governing bodies. Likewise, the longevity of an organisation is best achieved by maintaining a healthy board.

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