I was chatting to one of the other stallholders at the NEC exhibition and the discussion got onto the people on the board of her charity which was engaged in the medical field. In an earlier post I discussed the issue of lived experience, a popular topic at present with advice along the lines that it was important for boards to have such people. It turned out that all the board members at one time had the medical condition the charity was concerned with. It had not turned out well. Gradually, they had left and the board now had a mixed membership and only one or two members were people with the condition.
As I said in the earlier post, the nature of what a board does is only partly to do with the day to day operations of the organisation. This may seem a strange, even odd, statement to make but I suggest that the bulk of discussions at a board meeting are not directly linked to its operations on the ground. It is concerned with the finances, governance and safety issues, policy formation and updating, communications and staffing issues. In one sense, it almost doesn’t matter what the charity is doing.
It would be silly to argue that there is no input concerning its operations – clearly there has to be. It is also important for staff and volunteers to think that the trustees are tuned into their concerns and issues. It is not uncommon for staff and volunteers say things like ‘the trustees don’t understand what we do’ or to feel they are, as a body, detached and out of touch. Inviting them to make presentations from time to time is a good idea if managed well. I mean that anyone making a presentation should be encouraged to go beyond simply saying ‘I did that and then I did something else’. Rather that they try and relate their experience to the strategy of the charity or possibly for the need for change in some form, or how things could be improved.
I have reread some of the advice on this topic and I stick to my view that it has dangers and that it does not properly reflect the true role of the board.