by Jini Stolk
My farewell task for a board I’m retiring from is to look at our governance practices and policies and lead a discussion about our strengths and where we might need to make improvements. As with all my board experiences, it’s a great learning opportunity.
More and more I believe that the crux of good governance, which is about the working relationship between board and staff more than just about the board, is in understanding and defining how decisions are (or should be) made.
I’m interested in the role of committees. Finance committees, in particular, often do much of the heavy lifting: they let staff know what information they need, in what format, to understand the organization’s finances; they decide how they want to be alerted to potential risks in the budget; they may provide guidelines about what types of risk are acceptable. They look at various scenarios and make choices or recommendations; they identify triggers to alert the organization when projects or practices aren’t succeeding; they require the comfort of knowing that essential tasks such as CRA remittances are up to date; they focus on the immediate (cash flow) while looking ahead into the future (extended budget projections). And they are responsible for making informed recommendations or presenting options to the board as a whole, and for taking the board’s strategic directions back to the committee.
Simone Joyaux makes the point that committees can only do their work well with solid support from staff. That’s part of the relationship side of governance. She also correctly notes that Committees don’t direct or supervise staff: the committee chair and lead staff member are partners in providing leadership to the committee.