The theme of this month’s edition of Governance & Leadership is “building back better”. This aspiration may seem a trifle premature to those readers who still feel they are operating in full-on crisis response mode, but it seemed to be a common thread running through much of the content.
Building back better throws up a multitude of ideas for charity boards to chew over. First up, the way we do governance. In our leading cover article, lawyer Cliff Mills argues that the conventional top-down governance model employed by most large charities is disastrous in a crisis – and not much use outside of one, either. He outlines a different model of “public benefit governance”, which employs a representative body of key stakeholders that sits outside of the main trustee board. This model is already being put to good use in a few places, and we think it is worthy of consideration.
Meanwhile, the National Deaf Children’s Society outlines how it has put service users more directly at the heart of its governance by including them on its main trustee board, although recent failings at RNIB offer a reminder that this must not come at the cost of recruiting for relevant skills.
We also feature some sage advice from Compass Group about how to do strategic planning when you have no idea what the future holds. “Scenario thinking” helps trustee boards to identify the strategic approach that will hold up best in all possible situations – a timely and relevant exercise given the current and future uncertainty. If you are genuinely committed to building back better, you need to give yourself the best possible shot at staying on course, whatever unknowns come your way.
Rebuilding for the future also requires being honest about the past, and our columnist Elizabeth Balgobin urges trustees and executives to come clean in their appraisals of how they have dealt with this emergency. Have you done the very best you could, under the circumstances? Have you been kind to your colleagues and staff, and ensured they felt supported and valued? Or have you turned a blind eye to others’ reactions and behaviours, even though you weren’t entirely comfortable with them? It’s not just the government that should be reviewing its response to the crisis, she says – charities too can only move forward to a more enlightened future if relationships are strong and consciences clear.
Of course black lives matter
We have been encouraged to see the high profile given to the issue of racism by the national media over recent weeks, and fervently hope that this awakening means we are nearing the tipping point where real change begins to take place. This magazine has been agitating for progress on this issue within charities for more than three years now, and we can assure our readers that we will continue to do so, even if the headlines fade elsewhere. As a sign of our commitment, we have gathered together all relevant articles since January 2017 and created the Governance & Leadership Guide to Diversity. For the time being, we are making it freely available on our website; you can find it at civilsociety.co.uk/diversity. Please download it, read it, and share it widely with colleagues. Because there is no way your charity can build back better without its leaders understanding how institutional racism manifests within organisations, and taking proper action to undo it.