Guest blog post by John Williams, Vice Chair at Association of Chairs.
You’ve probably come across the phrase or the hashtag “build back better”. It’s a term originally used as a response to natural disasters, a call to learn the lessons and create greater resilience against acts of nature. Today it has become a rallying cry to use the lessons and opportunities of the pandemic to tackle the imbalances, inequalities and injustice in our society. It’s a big, ambitious goal.
It may seem an overwhelming task for a single charity Chair, but at the very least it offers a challenge to build back better in your own charity.
Here, I offer some practical actions. They may seem an ask too far when the sector is facing so many challenges, but while some of you are managing a day to day crisis, others of you are managing to stay afloat and looking to the longer term, while others are in enforced hibernation. So, if you have time to take stock, do – this is for you:
Revisit your core purpose
Covid-19 has prompted something of an existential crisis: so, it’s right to ask yourselves as a charity, do we need to exist? What is our main purpose, and are we still focused on achieving it? Are we making a difference? Mission drift is common in the best of charities, and we all still struggle to fully measure impact. It might be that you could achieve more with a merger or a change of direction.
Review or create your theory of change
A good way to reappraise your core purpose is to review your theory of change or look at creating one. Reviewing it is a good discipline for defining your purpose, clarifying your strategy and for assessing the impact you want to make.
Test yourself against the Charity Governance Code
The revamped Code has been used by many charities as their best practice benchmark. It does not have to be an onerous process to re-read the Code and ask yourselves if you’re living up to all the principles. The months ahead are going to be challenging, and you want your governance to be as strong a foundation as it can be.
Revisit your governing documents
You may say, really, now? But honestly, when did you last review them? Do you want to update your objects? Do they align with how you want to operate, and with the Code? Have you got around to setting term limits on trustees? Are the rules for meetings practical? Have you developed a trustee Code of Conduct? There is perhaps no better time to Marie Kondo your Mem and Arts.
Prioritise diversity and inclusion
If there’s one ‘new normal’ resolution you might make, it is to develop a practical plan to promote genuine diversity and inclusion, from the profile of the people you serve to the make-up of your board. We all know the stats, but it’s been too easy to put it on the ‘too difficult’ pile. The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities, the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent Voice4Change England and Acevo ‘Home Truths’ report have finally given us all a sense of urgency. It’s time to make a plan with a commitment to change. It may be around board recruitment, access to your services or in facing your own unconscious biases.
Reassess your trustee skills mix
The pandemic has changed the priorities of many boards and our ability to respond. Conventional fundraising is proving much harder, which calls for fresh thinking about sources of income and how to tap them. Service delivery may have had to go entirely remote and online. Do you need more than one ‘digital’ trustee? Have you got one at all? Do you have enough commercial nous around the table, and experience of managing fundamental change, to rethink your operational model?
Create more thinking and planning time
Normally, you don’t need your board to be in strategy mode all the time but this is a unique period of change. If you’re going to seize the opportunity to build back better, you need to create space to do it – without burdening your executive team, if you have one. Think about bringing forward your awayday. Think about creating sub-groups to look at new ways of working, or hothouse new income possibilities, thus allowing you to use your regular board meetings to keep the day to day on track.
Use your enforced ‘Zooming’ to rethink your board agendas and processes
Zooming has opened up the opportunity for new approaches to the traditional board meeting. Get away from the Groundhog Day of the same agenda and topics each time. For more ideas, read some top tips from our Chair and brilliant facilitator, Danny Curtin.
Go back to basics with your risk register
All of the above is positive and ambitious advice, but the reality of living with Covid-19 and the economic fall-out is going to be tough for us all. You need to ensure you stay resilient and ensure you’ve assessed all the risks to your charity. Covid-19 will have impacted most items on your register. Take time to work through all the implications. Even better, put aside your register and start with a blank sheet of paper – what are your biggest risks in the new normal?
Finally, look after yourself and your colleagues
Staying resilient and having the energy to seize the opportunities to build back better, means looking after everyone’s well-being. Don’t overload yourselves. Stay ambitious, but realistic.