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How NCVO's independent governance review is helping us live up to our values and the Charity Governance Code we helped create.
As a member of NCVO’s board I get to contribute to its unique role providing oversight to both NCVO’s organisational strategy and its strategic vision to support the wider voluntary sector.
One of the core ways in which NCVO delivers this dual strategic purpose is by offering members and the wider voluntary sector highly accessible and rigorous practical support, training, consultancy, and guidance, covering all aspects of running a voluntary organisation.
We want to hold ourselves to the standards and be an example of the best practice that we share with others. For instance, as a partner of the Charity Governance Code this means ensuring we work to implement its principles and use it for regular review.
While there’s always more work for us to do, we know that without commitment like this it would be incredibly difficult for us to play our role within the sector with legitimacy and confidence. This was something our chair Priya had at the front of her mind when she appointed Campbell Tickell to support her to conduct a wide-ranging, independent governance review for NCVO.
In 2021 it had been three years since the last independent review of our governance structure – the length of time recommended between reviews. During those three years our organisation went through an intense and challenging period of change. We had a new organisational strategy, a new chair of trustees, an organisational restructure, and the start of vital work to change our culture and address organisational failures.
We therefore valued the broad and constructive evaluation that the independent review brought – engaging stakeholders, trustees and staff, and fully assessing our governance structures, processes, relationships and documentation. Taking the themes of the Charity Governance Code as their framework, Campbell Tickell reported back to the board in December 2021.
So, what did our governance review find and what changes have we implemented as a result?
The review recommended that we establish a new committee structure for specific areas of our work, such as a new people, culture and inclusion committee. In response we brought together our equity, diversity and inclusion sub-committee and human resources and renumeration committee, centring our commitment to inclusion in everything we do internally and externally.
To support our internal work in this area we also hope to learn from the findings of the recently incubated Power & Integrity project, which is exploring coherent and holistic approaches to organisational integrity. We’ll work to ensure the project group has regular links with the newly formed people, culture and inclusion committee.
The review also recommended a new finance and commercial committee. We set this up to oversee all our income-generating work that allows us to provide support to the sector, as well as our business planning and monitoring our progress against performance targets.
The review provided insightful recommendations on the frequency and alignment of board and committee meetings to provide better insight to trustees. The chairs of committees now meet with the board chair and vice chair every six months to discuss workflows and review how well the vertical and horizontal lines of communication are operating.
The review also suggested changes to improve transparency and clarity on committee roles and functions and to ensure all aspects of the organisation have a route to the board. These changes included new responsibilities for each committee.
The valuable role of independent members on NCVO’s committees was highlighted, particularly the ability of these to bring in skills and knowledge from other sectors and backgrounds The review recommended we maintain and strengthen this membership and we’ve since recruited 10 new independent members for our committees, bringing the total to 14.
We’ve also introduced clearer processes for selection, onboarding and updating independent members. We used a number of external channels to recruit our new independent members. Candidates were shortlisted and then interviewed by trustees, current independent members and representatives from member organisations.
The review also recommended we create a new senior independent trustee role to act as the board lead on whistleblowing and safeguarding issues – and also to undertake the appraisal of our chair. We’re pleased that Sarabajaya Kumar, who has strong experience in these areas, has taken on this role. We continue to review the diversity and skill needs of the board and its committees annually.
To better support trustees in fulfilling their voluntary roles, the review recommended NCVO provide a more systematic and tailored trustee induction process, supported by the development of the annual appraisal process for trustees.
This week, during Trustees’ Week, we've also started working with an external facilitator to consider how the board can work as effectively together as possible. The whole board is excited to see how we can work together better, particularly as we welcome new trustees later this month following a rigorous election process by our members.
Part of our conversation about board effectiveness will address a recommendation within the review around providing clarity about the specific role of membership organisations and the unique role NCVO has in the sector.
As a board, we’ll discuss how we can be more visible externally. This includes clarifying the role of our board in engaging with members, the sector and other stakeholders. We've finalised our Scheme of Delegation to codify where responsibilities and decision making lie.
Overall, the review conducted by Campbell Tickell has provided us with valuable recommendations and great insight into how our governance structures are working and where they could be improved. As a vice chair I’m really pleased with the progress we’ve made over the last few months.
I’m committed to supporting Priya and the rest of the board in our desire and determination to continue to take the actions necessary to ensure our governance is as effective as possible. We're always ready to review and improve. In doing so, we aim to live up to both the letter and spirit of the Charity Governance Code, and support NCVO to be the best possible example for the voluntary sector.
This review helps us to ensure that NCVO’s governance is open, accountable, effective, transparent and relevant. It helps us live up to our values and the Charity Governance Code we helped create.
We know we found NCVO’s board and executive after a challenging period, but promisingly they had already embarked on different ways of working, and the review was therefore able to build on this orientation towards improvement. We took great heart from the openness, lack of defensiveness and appetite to learn at NCVO’s board, and these cultural and behavioural traits are as much the engine for good governance as any structural or workflow changes. The Charity Governance Code provided an excellent compass for helping us all reflect on what most needed to change.