Good Governance: The Elephant in the Room

Let’s address the elephant in the room, shall we…is governance boring?

Well, I think that depends entirely on how you look at it. It can certainly seem boring if you let it, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Believe it or not, if you approach it the right way, good governance can actually be quite inspiring. And that’s how I like to think about it.

I often talk about governance as being a bit like ‘the carrot and the stick’. I think we all know what the ‘stick’ aspects of poor governance look like…essentially things go wrong! For example, people don’t have a good experience of our organisation, or standards of service are not met, or funds are not used as they should be, or unmanaged (or poorly managed) risks and hazards cause harm…the list goes on. While preventing bad stuff from happening certainly can be motivating, it’s hardly inspiring, and it can often make governance feel like a boring, box-ticking chore.

But if we flip this idea of governance being a boring chore on its head, and focus on the ‘carrot’ side of things, governance can become a whole lot more meaningful and inspirational.

When I think of the ‘carrot’ side of governance, four key areas stand out for me.

1.   The benefits to the organisation. When our organisation is well governed it will function better.
o   It will do a better job of achieving its stated purpose/s
o   It will meet its financial responsibilities and accountabilities more effectively
o   It will do a better job of planning for the future, thus maximising its effectiveness and efficiency
o   It will be sure to operate within the laws and meet other compliance requirements
o   It will more effectively manage risks, keeping its people and its operations safer
o   And it will develop a good reputation as sound organisation (which, among other things, will see it viewed more favourably when seeking resources!)

2.   The benefits to the people we serve. When our organisation is well governed the people who interact with us will get better outcomes.
o   The ‘end users’ of the service or function the organisation provides (i.e. customers/clients/service users)
o   Our members (if we have members)
o   Our staff (including volunteers) will be well-informed, well-trained, well-developed, well-supported, safe
o   Our peak bodies will be confident in the operations of our organisation
o   Our funders will be confident in our financial management
o   Our patrons will be confident that their contributions are being leveraged appropriately

3.    The benefit to those who govern the organisation. When our organisation is well governed, the people who give their time to serve on the Board can have a level of comfort and confience that they are not putting themselves at risk by becoming part of the organisation.

4.    The benefits to the broader community. When the fabric of our community includes well-governed, well-functioning not-for-profit organisations, it strengthens the whole community – creating greater social capital and quality of life for those within it.

So, at the end of the day, like anything we ‘have to’ do, we can either chose to embrace it or to rail against it. And with so many positives associated with getting our organisational governance right, why wouldn’t we embrace it for all the good it can do, on so many levels!

Megan Buntine
22 May 2023

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