Our Head of Consultancy, Jo Dacombe, works with the boards of many cultural and creative organisations to support their development and fundraising, and recently helped develop 6 successful NPO funding bids. In this blog, Jo gives some helpful advice and resources on how to create a healthy, progressive and supportive board for your organisation:
Many funders and national Arts Councils are looking for a strong governing board in a cultural organisation when making funding decisions. A strong board also helps an organisation’s resilience and, in these challenging times, that’s what we all need! The role of the board is more important than ever, so, how do you ensure your board is strong and effective and brings real benefit to your organisation?
In my work as a consultant for the cultural sector, I’ve noticed that lots of organisations I speak to want to develop their board but don’t know where to begin. They may have started their organisation with some friends or local people who were keen to get it going, but over time they recognise that the board needs to develop as the needs of the organisation grows.
So I’ve put together 7 ways that you should consider when developing your board, with some resources that can help.
- Reflect on relevancy
Ensure that the skills and experience of your board support your vision and strategy. You need to have a clear idea of your organisation’s purpose and direction so that you can make sure your board has the right people on it to help you achieve your aims. Think about the specific areas that your organisation might need. For example, does your organisation focus on work with children, so you need somebody on your board with knowledge of safeguarding? Are you aiming to develop a new digital strand to your work, so do you need somebody with experience of the digital sector? Also, remember that things change – reflect on the needs for your board when you review your business plan or strategy.
- Skills that support
Undertake a skills audit of your board. This will help you to see where existing skills align with what you need to support your vision, as well as identify gaps and training needs. Reach Volunteering have put together a great online resource, which includes useful templates to undertake a skills audit: Trustee Recruitment Cycle.
- Diversify and conquer
Think about diversity, not just skills. Are there people on your board who reflect the communities you serve and can bring a point of view informed by lived experience? Identify any barriers that might be stopping a diversity of people becoming a trustee and address these. Here’s a useful blog post on how to avoid tokenism when diversifying your board by Pari Dhillon, Director of Social Justice Collective and Independent Consultant to the Governance Code Steering Group: Equality, diversity and inclusion IS good governance.
- Train to retain
Plan an annual training programme to address the skills gaps that you have identified. This will also help with retention, as members of your board will see that they benefit by learning new skills. Check out the NCVO’s regular Governance round-up aimed at charities with useful sector updates, training courses and guidance. Link to resource.
- Induction is important
Have a strong induction programme for new board members. This is important to ensure that new members understand their role and feel supported to deliver it well. This useful guide from the Charities Commission outlines the duties, legal responsibilities and role of a trustee: The essential trustee: what you need to know, what you need to do.
- Budget for development
Don’t forget, when you build your annual budget, to include training costs and support to develop your board members. Invite your board members to your staff training too!
- Review and respond
Provide an opportunity to review the contributions of individuals. This could be an annual chat between the Chair and each board member to see how they feel they are contributing and to identify any support they might need.
A good way to implement some of the advice above is to instigate a board away-day. A well developed board is a huge benefit to an organisation but can take some time to get right. A dynamic board needs to be diverse and representative of your organisation’s goals but it’s important to keep your board engaged too. After a reflection, consider inviting sector relevant trainers to your board away-day for skills development, and don’t forget the biscuits!
Jo’s next workshop, Planning for Dynamism, explores how development planning, including positive board development, can contribute to a more resilient and sustainable organisation. This online session on 23 March will explore what Dynamism means and how your organisation can plan for it. Read more about Planning for Dynamism or book your ticket here.