Seeing the big picture could be crucial to your survival

Posted on 10 Oct 2018

By Patrick Moriarty, executive director, ICDA

Culture will be the key for all organisations

In the wake of royal commissions into child abuse and banks, and even the ball-tampering scandal that enveloped Aussie cricket, organisations must keep culture front of mind to avoid trouble. Your culture should be on display in everything you do.

As I've said to students many times, "You have a values statement, but how's that actually working in practice?"

Many things are needed to make culture really work, including board members taking responsibility rather than just handballing things to management to implement.

This requires maintaining strong links with management, conducting reviews to assess how well your organisation is living its values, and putting those values "on display".

And while there are many organisations doing great things with their culture, there's no script for the right way, which is why you'll need to do your homework.

At ICDA we feel strongly that the culture of an organisation can make it or break it.

Human resources a challenge for many

Greater demands on volunteer time and limited resources for not-for-profits will continue to create trouble for many organisations, amid all the other pressures they face, whether it is to do with finances, regulations or community expectations.

Dealing with this challenge comes down to striking a good balance between what's realistic to achieve and the actual strategic plan. I'm talking about not just paid staff, but also volunteers.

Those working for not-for-profits are usually pressed for time and often undervalued, but just because you need to get more done doesn't mean you need to recruit extra people onto the board.

In fact, it's more effective to have subcommittees and working groups do that work, freeing up your board to keep an eye on the big picture. And it's usually a lot easier to get people to help you out with specific tasks than to recruit them to your board.

Similarly, generating more work for staff to do to show you're "doing things" isn't effective; in fact, it's counterproductive.

Boards must refocus on the business of governing but not be disconnected from the day to day.

And in reference to my point about putting values on display to demonstrate your culture, board members must play their part in ensuring they are visible in the organisation, with research showing that lack of connection is a growing problem for many boards.

How can you be really connected to an organisation if you're not turning up to performances if you're part of an arts body, or the netball matches if you're part of the club?

You must be clear to new directors, too, about the expectations of your board, including when you're recruiting. Don't suggest to anyone that "it's just a meeting once a month". The commitment you require is much greater than that.

Be specific about the time commitment involved: for example, two hours of preparation per monthly meeting, an annual strategic planning day, attendances at six functions a year, and so on. Once again, there's more advice about this on the ICDA website.

Having a good handle on human resources means ensuring you conduct proper performance appraisals of staff and volunteers, but before that, it means sharing understanding of how success is measured in the first place

All these factors will help you to better recruit and retain staff and volunteers. This way you'll build effective connections between the board and management, and avoid the burnout that often accompanies a lack of connection.

Change never stops: how demographic changes could affect your year

I've been watching what appears to be a growing disparity between metropolitan, outer urban and rural areas in terms of resources.

This disparity, along with other social and demographic changes happening across the continent, has left many questioning whether we're really still a fair country.

I think we are, but our national social fabric - what defines us as Australian - is undoubtedly fraying at the edges.

Small communities are perhaps most affected by, and most vulnerable to, changing fortunes, especially in regional and remote areas, some of them ravaged by drought.

In some cases, we've witnessed the creation of virtual towns, where there's no actual infrastructure remaining on the ground, just a shrunken dot on a map.

The populations of these towns are being sucked into the big cities and bigger regional towns.

How boards and committees in these locations adapt to this change can be critical to their survival.

They can play a critical part in supporting social infrastructure by collaborating rather than competing and duplicating effort.

In some cases, having six different incorporated bodies of basically the same people defeats the purposes they've set out to achieve.

Using the skills and abilities of people from outside the town - lawyers and financial advisers, for example - to provide essential support can help these groups not only to survive, but to thrive.

I'm about to start working with a reference panel, Investing in Rural Community Futures, of the Foundation for Regional and Rural Renewal (FRRR), which is conducting a pilot program to support vital regional infrastructure. And Our Community has already been involved in a project helping dairy farming communities in South Gippsland, Victoria, to better connect with funding opportunities.

The challenges facing regional and remote areas are just one example of the enormous demographic and social changes happening in Australia now. They're a reminder to not-for-profits to always keep an eye on the bigger picture, and consider how to respond.

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