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Getting good at governance

By Iona Joy 4 January 2016

Charity boards took a bad rap in 2015. The demise of Kids Company illustrated where sloppy governance can lead, while fundraising scandals showed that boards need to take greater interest in the ethics of fundraising teams. Meanwhile, continued cries about executive pay—some poorly informed, some reasonable—is leaving boards on the defensive about how money is spent. If only there could be more media attention on what many charities—rather than the badly managed minority—achieve for beneficiaries!

So it’s good to start 2016 on a more positive note; which is why NPC is pleased to be supporting the 2016 Charity Governance Awards. This new initiative—organised by the Clothworkers’ Company and supported by NPC, Prospectus, and Reach—aims to showcase exemplary governance practice, in areas such as improving impact, diversity, turnarounds, and embracing opportunity.

Highlighting good governance matters to NPC because boards are key to the leadership and culture of organisations. It there is a lot to juggle; a board that doesn’t balance fundraising imperatives with a clear focus on impact risks drifting away from mission, yet a board that abrogates its financial responsibilities may sleepwalk into insolvency. We’ve repeatedly hectored boards to up their game and not neglect their responsibilities as guardians of charity purpose, impact, and sustainability—so now it is time to recognise those that are doing a great job at this.

The over all aim in showcasing excellent governance is to enable organisations to learn from and encourage each other, and to continue to improve. We also hope the awards will highlight how rewarding—even fun—trusteeship can be. I love being on the board for the London Wildlife Trust—I’ve learnt things about river catchments I never knew were important!

The awards aim to be inclusive, which is why they welcome nominations from all charities large and small, and why there are several varied categories for nomination. It is also why the judging will take into account the fact that good governance is a journey. In the ‘impact’ nomination categories, for example, we are not expecting charities to have reached the holy grail of impact measurement in order to win the award. The awards will look at how boards have taken steps to improve their impact practice, so those making initial attempts to refocus on impact would be welcome entrants in this category.

The ‘embracing opportunity and harnessing risk’ category will be a lot of fun—and we’re looking forward to hearing from any boards out there that have taken their charity well out of its comfort zone to find radical solutions.

With the recent spate of charity closures, we need some examples of how to turn around the fortunes of a charity successfully—which makes the ‘managing turnaround’ category one to keep an eye on.

Finally, I’m hoping the ‘diversity and inclusivity’ winner will demonstrate how a really good trustee mix adds value. Perhaps it will encourage other boards to step up and address their diversity issues.

So we hope these awards present an opportunity to praise and inspire. Deadline for entry is 25 January—bring it on!

To view the categories or to nominate your board for an award, view the Charity Governance Awards website.