What lessons in governance can the charity sector learn from the arts?

Posted on April 18, 2016

Blog by Prue Skene, Leadership in Governance facilitator and Clore Leadership Programme Governance Associate.

I’ve led on board development for the Clore Leadership Programme for the cultural sector for some eight years now, and during that time have worked with dozens of arts boards. I’m now about to take some of that expertise and experience into the social sector, swapping from cultural to social leadership and devising a Clore Social Leadership workshop for Chairs and CEOs attending as pairs. 

The first big question I have to ask myself when preparing for this is: What’s the difference between the two sectors as far as governance is concerned? And the answer seems to be very little. While Boards of artistic organisations often need coaxing to understand their role in artistic programming and risk, in the social sector they need to have great clarity about their beneficiaries and their causes. People might think that there’s more glamour about having access to first nights and private views but I’ve met very few Board members who put priority on such things. All Trustees need to leave vainglory at the door! I think fortunately for this country there are still a great number of souls who genuinely want to give something back and feel that joining a charitable Board helps them accomplish this.

The cultural world hasn’t had a Kids Company (yet!) but nonetheless that disaster raised the pressure on all charitable Boards. The need to be strategic and not operational, the responsibility each Trustee has for the financial health of an organisation and the understanding of the relationship between Chair and CEO applies throughout all of the charity sector.

There is much literature on and many weblinks to the roles and responsibilities of being a charitable Trustee. What is more difficult to find is how the relationships work: Chair/CEO, Board/executive staff, Board/membership or beneficiaries. How is trust formed? How do a disparate group of people who perhaps meet formally only four times a year arrive at strategic decisions for the future growth and wellbeing of their organisation? In any increasingly complex world, how are ethics, diversity and sustainability delivered while ensuring that the objectives of the charity are always adhered to?

None of these pertinent areas belong to any one sector. They all need addressing, not through a textbook but through discussion, understanding and good induction with some case studies of bad examples to give warning and some of good examples to encourage. That is what I hope my workshop will deliver, together with the hot topic of the role of the Board in fundraising and other practical advice. What all Boards in the charitable sector need to know is how to lead and support, while challenging where necessary. It’s an art in itself.

If you are interested in further understanding the role of your CEO or Chair and developing your skills in governance best practice, including risk management, income generation and the diversity of a Board, then you may want to consider attending our Leadership in Governance workshop on 21 May 2016 with your Chair or CEO. Call 020 7812 3770 to book.

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