Updated: Sep 15, 2020
The non-profit director is often called upon to participate in many aspects of a cause, getting themselves tied up in so many things, they lose focus and become ineffective. With so many distractions, staying focused on what is important is often harder than it sounds.
For many boards, a lack of clear priorities and focus areas can mean time spent together is neither effective of efficient. So if you are looking for insights in how to improve, where you spend your time as a board can give you an indication of how effective and efficient you really are.
One of the primary roles of the non-profit board though, is oversight. The board is there to ensure the organisation is financially viable, acting as a good corporate citizen, exercising its duty of care and compliance.
In essence, it is from this point that all Non-Profit Boards should build their priorities and focus. But in most cases, this is not the real underlying reason the non profit board is formed. Organisations want expertise, connections, insights, practical assistance and access to funding.
Where directors feel comfortable and knowledgeable can often dictate where the board spends most of its time.
Sometimes it is much easier to delve into the past and pour over accounts and statistics of what has been done. Sometimes the founders are so embedded in the day to day running and forget to step and think like a director and being strategic or committing to a future direction can be difficult. Sometimes boards are stacked with so many strategic thinkers none of the ‘boring stuff’ gets done.
In truth, there is no standard ratio or formula for where a non-profit board should be spending most of their time. Depending on the organisations life cycle, external influences or funding landscape, the boards focus should, and will change, however all three areas of past present and future should be in the mix.
For example, during the recent Royal Commission into the aged care and disability sectors many organisations were compelled to reassess their records, going back many years, in preparation for a possible calling up to the commission. For these non-profits, there would also have been a strong focus on current practices and procedures, with a hint of planning for future compliance requirements.
For much of 2020 many non-profit boards have been meeting more regularly to discuss COVID-19 contingency plans, short term operating budgets, workforce logistics and staff welfare.
When the national disability insurance scheme was being rolled out, many non-profit boards spent a great deal of time assessing current capabilities and strategizing for the new marketplace.
Whether it is in a time of growth, changing marketplace, times of crisis or during a seemingly smooth sailing period, the non-profit board focus should change to meet the current needs of the cause.
You should be mindful though that spending a disproportionate amount of time in one particular area can also be detrimental and may lead to the board missing other important aspect of governance.
Just as importantly, watch out for ground hog day. If your board meetings have been the same for the past few years without variation, you should be thinking of drawing a line in the sand and reassessing where your time as a board would be best utilised.