Hoe down or show down?

Hoe down or show down?

Hoe down or show down?2

Governance | Robert Ashton | 20 Feb 2013

A charity has a big decision to make. But Robert Ashton is unsure of whether the charity will be able to make it.

I sat in on a very interesting charity Board meeting recently. The organisation has enjoyed considerable success of late which has brought it to something of a crossroads. It is far from a simple decision to choose the right path ahead; there are pros and cons to both options.

All that's certain is that one of the options is time limited. It's a window of opportunity prompted by the current politics of the sector in which the charity operates. Major decisions have to be made and the charity has to choose if it wants to be part of something bigger, or continue to paddle its own canoe.

Typically, the issue has divided the Trustees. Some favour merger and some think the organisation should remain independent. Merger gets faster results; independence means a longer haul but fewer compromises. It's a tough choice.

As the Boardroom clock ticks away, the inevitable showdown approaches. How will the discussion go? Whose argument will win the day? Or will they gamble and delay making the crucial decision.

An early item on the agenda is to set the date for a fundraising barn dance. Should it take place in June, when the weather has a habit of letting you down, or in September, when the weather's better. June seems sensible to me, as if a success, you can repeat in September.

As the pros and cons of the two dates were discussed, time passed. It became a major debate, not because it really mattered I realised, but because it did not. In other words, here was a minor issue that was safe to argue. Furthermore discussing this issue delayed the bigger debate; the one nobody was looking forward to.

Eventually folk got round to the big issue of the day. As is so often the case, the more emotive aspects were debated at length and the economics largely overlooked. More worryingly, some of the hottest debate was about things over which the group would have no control, whichever path they chose.

And as befits a group who spent an age discussing the date for a hoe down, they danced right round the show down. I hope you don't do the same!


Adrian Ashton
21 Feb 2013

I've always found that the easiest way to ensure that Boards can most objectively and impersonally explore the option of merger vs independence is to take as the starting question: "which will have the greatest impact on this charity's beneficiaries?";

keeping the focus of the discussion on the core purpose of the charity from the outset (and framing all questions around it) means that people don't start to get upset about distractions such as implications to staff (which the charity has a responsibility for, but isn't the reason for its existence and might unduly influence the debate/discussion/decision/deliberation/dance)

Alistair Heron
20 Feb 2013

It's that wry smile of recognition once again ;-)


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Robert Ashton

Robert Ashton is a social entrepreneur, campaigner and author.

Robert is a vice patron of Norfolk Community Foundation and chairs Human Library UK CIC.

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