Not for profit: Solving the NFP board puzzle

16/10/2007 - 22:00


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A diverse and highly skilled board can transform an organisation, yet finding the right board members can be a major challenge for many not-for-profits.

A diverse and highly skilled board can transform an organisation, yet finding the right board members can be a major challenge for many not-for-profits.


Recruiting people from the corporate sector can provide not for profit groups with a useful source of legal, financial or marketing expertise, and a link to other sponsorship opportunities.


According to Western Australian Council of Social Service director of business services, Lyn Levy, an increasing number of not-for-profit organisations in WA are realising the importance of strategic planning and having people with business skills on their boards.


Ms Levy said this was partly driven by a need to be sustainable over the longer term and diversify income streams.


In order to improve the business management skills of those already working in the not-for-profit sector, WACOSS and East Perth-based organisational training firm, MODAL, have established a training partnership.


Employees of not-for-profit organisations are selected to participate in a 12-month diploma of business course, which is tailored for the not-for-profit sector.


The partnership has so far trained about 54 people.


Ms Levy said growing organisations in particular, which had received a funding increase and were putting on more staff, often needed assistance in the transition period and could benefit from the program.


She said many organisations sought help from WACOSS with governance issues, especially around annual general meetings and elections.


“We would probably get three to four calls a week, usually regarding the roles and responsibilities of management committees and boards,” Ms Levy said. 


“A lot of the work we do is around understanding constitutions and what the requirements are.”


Gerard Daniels global practice leader for board consulting, Alison Gaines, believes there is a lot of interest among business people in volunteering for not-for-profit boards, but says there is a lack of awareness of how to become involved.


Ms Gaines, who was formerly executive director of the Law Society of WA, is planning to set up a website to link business people and not-for-profit groups.


“There’s a real need to have access to business skills on not-for-profit boards,” she said.


“I see a lot of people interested in giving to the community through their governance skills and in developing their governance skills in the not-for-profit sector, but they don’t know where to start.”


Ms Gaines said she hoped to develop a website similar to a Victorian community website,


“I think Victoria has some good examples of how to bring the not-for-profit and corporate sectors together,” she said.


Aluminium producer Alcoa of Australia is also in the early stages of planning a similar website, to link its employees with not-for-profit groups wanting board members.


Another program, Leadership WA’s Skillsbank, provides a link between business and the not-for-profit sector.


Skillsbank, which is in its fourth year, consists of a series of seminars on leadership and governance issues.


The program’s graduates – from business, government and not-for-profit backgrounds – are then linked to groups in the not-for-profit sector.


One organisation to have benefited from the program is Osborne Park-based Workpower Incorporated, which has secured three board members with legal and financial expertise through Leadership WA.


Workpower chief executive officer Shane O’Connor said the program was useful because its participants learned a range of skills with the expectation that they would give back to the community sector.


However, he acknowledged that it was often difficult for small organisations to find board members.


“You do find that the smaller not-for-profits sometimes do find it hard to attract people to their boards. If they’re not high profile, attracting business people can be hard, particularly finding someone who’s willing to work long hours without any directors fees,” Mt O’Connor said.



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