Frank Bennett

Oct 25, 2021, 9:00 AM

The key to good governance in times of change

The past two years of disruption have caused much reflection on the way things were – the good old days – and how things will be in the future. One thing that has changed is the rapid adoption of technology to support new ways of working. “Let’s Zoom or jump on a Teams meeting," is now routine. It happened out of necessity and looks here to stay.

One characteristic of recent events is that trustee boards have been called to arms. The usual format and timing of board meetings has been done away with in order to deal with events in real time.

We have the lessons of how the leadership of charities has responded to these exceptional times. Has this created a new modus operandi and tempo for trustee boards? What might lie ahead?

Governing in a digital age

How many different aspects of your charity’s governance regularly come under review? Perhaps the better question is: what does the board need to know about its governance at any point in time? Governance is fluid. Conducting governance reviews every three or five years will leave the board exposed.

Today a governance review is dynamic and far removed from a tick box compliance exercise carried out every now and then. It must inform the board on matters that are reserved for its deliberation and action. Increasingly, boards also recognise that engagement with the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) is vital to translate its intent to deliver good governance into action.

Digital provides a new way for boards to keep on top of their governance. Digital tools brings governance to life in pictures. “Members of the board, I present to you a picture of our governance that highlights our strengths and those areas for development. We will routinely update this so we (trustees and SLT) are all aware of our governance responsibilities.”

Picture 2.jpgImage Copyright Digi-Board Limited 2021

Will this become the preferred way of working the governance agenda? Informed by the collective views of each and every trustee and SLT member – working the governance agenda together.

Picture 1.jpgImage Copyright Digi-Board Limited 2021

Will this analysis support the board’s envisioning of how the charity will be run today and by its successors? As the Chair of Commonweal Housing puts it, Good governance is the diligent pursuit to do the right things today while creating a legacy for your successors.”

How do you create these conditions? You need data that delivers insights to support your work as a board – to keep you on track.

There is now every reason for those responsible for governance to be involved, no matter what their experience of governance. This is digital put to work to transform the board’s performance and is paramount to its governance duties.

The digital approach does not extinguish other ways that have become customary to those familiar with governance reviews. The fireside chat still has its place. Digital updates the process of a governance review to assist time-pressed boards to deliver on good governance. Here is what Sue Porto, CEO of Brandon Trust, said in her testimonial to Action Planning following a governance review:

“We really liked the Digi-Board approach too. It’s about individual personalities. It was really objective. It prompted you to think in a different way.”

Looking to the past or the future?

The demands on trustees are growing as the world delivers increasing complexity. Consider that five years ago boards would not have needed to be mindful of GDPR or cyber security risks. These should now be at the top of every charity’s risk register.

Society is demanding more openness and accountability of charities. New agendas such as Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity, Safeguarding, Fundraising ethics, all present new considerations to deal with. The good news is that help is available to deal with that complexity. It is now served up online in the same way that we conduct our day-to-day business.

When you boil it down, all you need to know about governance is “what is essential?” Then “how do you know you that?” The charts above point the board at the essentials. When we do these things well we demonstrate competency in our trusteeship of the charity.

As an important aside, how would your charity’s reputation benefit from proof of its commitment to good governance? Your reply: we use the latest digital tools to routinely monitor all aspects of our governance. That’s different!

Looking ahead, what do you think would make a difference to the work of the board and its duty to governance? Doing the same old thing, or using all available tools at its disposal?

Need more guidance on ways to digitally update your governance? Talk to Action Planning today.

Please call 01737 814758 or email office@actionplanning.co.uk 

For more information on Digi-Board, visit www.thedigiboard.co.uk

Andrew Johnson

Frank Bennett is Co-founding Director of Digi-Board, a leading provider of online governance reviews for charities and not-for-profit organisations and a partner of Action Planning. He serves as a Board level advisor to listed companies, privately held companies and EU Horizon 2020 R&I projects, specialising in digital strategy and how that supports the business model, and the author of eight published cloud computing titles with commissions from Google and Microsoft.