Attract, retain, build…burnout? The challenge facing not-for-profit boards

By Institute of Directors
23 Jul 2020
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3 min to read
Attract, retain, build…burnout? The challenge facing not-for-profit boards

New Zealand has around 115,000 not-for-profit (NFP) organisations and a majority have governance structures in place. The sector is incredibly varied and includes membership organisations, charities, trusts, social and environmental providers, interest groups and clubs.

There is a very long tail of small and local community organisations who provide essential services and support for those in need. Many face huge funding challenges and scarce resources in terms of assets and access to expertise. 

Fifty one percent of the Institute of Director's (IoD) 9000+ members have a not-for-profit role. For a quarter it is their main role. But for many not-for-profits, getting access to skilled board members is challenging and improving the governance capabilities across the sector is key.

Access to tailored governance development and support for NFPs is available through the IoD's governance services and in-house training. The Centre for Social Impact has been progressing a range of activities to build capability for not-for-profits and the IoD has been engaged in activities focused on improving NFP governance with the Centre.

Mothers’ Network - getting on board with governance

Mothers' Network has been 'run by mums, for mums' in the Wellington region for more than 35 years. They support and connect mothers through weekly discussion groups. The groups meet to consider and discuss the impact motherhood has on aspects of life, including relationships, career and a sense of wellbeing.

The discussion groups are run by women from the network who have previously attended a group and then been through facilitator training. Over the past 10 years more than 500 women have joined the network by attending a group, and 2,500 women are connected through the network’s Facebook page.

Governance challenges

Mothers’ Network was having difficulties attracting board members – and once on board the next challenge was burnout. As with many smaller not-for-profits, many of the board were also involved in operational aspects of the organisation. The split between governance and management was not well defined and often operational tasks were prioritised over governance responsibilities. 

According to chair of Mothers' Network, Alison Howard, “we struggled with how we were going to recruit more board members as most were previously in the Mothers’ Network groups. Of course, these members have young kids so few had any real discretionary time. The main criteria for board selection was ‘enthusiasm and availability’".

The board of Mothers' Network approached the IoD’s Governance Services team to help solve some of the issues they were facing. The outcomes of the service provided would ensure the Network could be more resilient and build a stronger foundation so they could grow in a more sustainable way.

Getting on track

The IoD ran a needs analysis with Mothers’ Network and matched them one of IoD's facilitators.

IoD facilitators are experienced directors and skilled at identifying issues and working collaboratively with governance teams. They create a collegial and confidential environment to learn, debate and develop an effective governance approach for the organisation. In the case of Mothers’ Network, the IoD matched them with Jo Cribb, a highly experienced and passionate NGO director.

Mothers’ Network were provided with a combination of theory and practical support, including how to write a job description, what to include in an induction pack, and key frameworks and policies that needed to be in place.

It was great to get training from someone whose values aligned with our own.
- Alison Howard, Mothers' Network Chair

The specific services provided to the board of the Mothers’ Network included:

Workshops: Facilitator Jo Cribb ran a number of workshops with Mothers' Network to help identify key issues facing the board and what was driving some of their practices. This collaborative approach ensured the board received the targeted support and services which directly met their needs.  

Getting the right skills: Mother’s Network identified skills' gaps on their board and elected to appoint three new board members. The facilitator used a skills' matrix to assess the board skills that they needed. Having a clear framework gave the group the confidence to go to market using IoD’s Director Vacancy service.

Running more effective board meetings: Work was undertaken on developing processes and policies for the board. Jo worked with the group to formalise board induction processes, charters and policies. As part of the ongoing support she will also observe future board meetings and offer advice on how to keep them effective and on track.

Individual coaching of board members:  Mother’s Network also identified individual development and coaching as a need for board members. As the board is not paid,  this meant being able to help individuals strengthen their performance at the board table and also help them towards realising their longer-term governance aspirations.

This was an opportunity to take a break from the day to day and lift ourselves out of the organisation for a bit and take a look with fresh eyes. It was a time to work on the charity not in the charity.
- Alison Howard, Mothers' Network Chair

Further resources and support