Friday, October 14, 2011

Active trusteeship

I am currently working with a voluntary organisation which is facing an uncertain future (like many) because of the uncertainty of funding from health agencies and local authorities.  This year it is likely to have to spend £10,000 of its reserves.  I have advised that this is brought to the Board's attention and it is minuted that this situation is understood and agreed.  My advice was for the worker to make recommendations but be clear that it is the Board making the decisions.

I have also suggested that he do a monthly cash-flow for next year to show the Board when the money runs out.  His first attempt included in it money that they hoped to get.  I suggested that this gave a much rosier picture than was the case and that the Board had to know when the balance of funds went under their reserves figure and when the balance figure became a negative number.  If anything would spur me into action it would be knowing that we were running out of money.  I hope that this has the desired impact on his Board and that at some point they grasp the urgency of the situation.

I was reminded of when I was brought in very late in the day to help a long-running local organisation to stave off closure.  I asked the chief officer and the chair of the Board, 'How much does it cost to run this organisation every month?'  Neither of them knew.  The chair of the Board was then surprised to find out that all the reserves had been spent.  I wondered at this point what management information was provided at Board meetings.  A couple of months later the organisation closed not because they did bad work but because they had neglected the most basic of issues - how much money do we spend and how much money have we got coming in.

In neither instance are/were people knowingly being irresponsible but in reality that's what it is.  To act responsibly you have to know what your responsibilities are and then you have to  act.  I have observed quite a few trustees over the years and there are a significant number who think that their work is done once the board meeting is over. In these times of financial uncertainty trustees more than ever really need to step up to the plate.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Outside help

This morning I met with someone whose organisation has been going for six months.  They have achieved a lot and have several learning institutions and health agencies interested in working with them.  Their problem is that they could do so much (as there is a real gap in the field that they work in) but as yet they are not a registered charity and have no permanent staff.  My job this morning was to reflect back what they are doing, to suggest that this is too much and to help the person to vocalise their core purpose.  Less than an hour talking through things and the woman leading it had a much clearer idea.  

This is the value of having an outsider to talk you through your difficulties.  It's another pair of eyes and another body of experience and knowledge which will look at things differently.  In my work I cannot afford to hang around.  I have in the first instance three meetings to get some real change.  More often than not I am only saying what they would say if they were not so busy just keeping the show on the road.

The other thing that I am able to do because I am paid to do it is to take action.  This organisation has the near-offer of some money if it can produce a business plan.  I can do this fairly quickly as long as I know what it is that they want to do and what they want to achieve through their actions.

In our communities and congregations it is worth getting an outsider in to review what we are doing and how effective we are.  We may not have the resources to pay someone to get something like a strategic plan together but we may get some pointers about this and could perhaps ask our district or the General Assembly for some help.