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Friday, 8 March 2013

Governance Models for the Nonprofit Sector - Are Current Options All There Is?

Many models of governance have been attributed to this sector in Australia - but are they all that exists and are they enough to carry this sector forward?

The Australian Stock Exchange model that is referenced in the Principles of Good Governance takes a very 'legal' and 'regulatory' approach with its emphasis on rules, relationships, systems, processes, control and mechanisms. It looks at things from the perspective of formality and rigidity and whilst it refers to relationships, it does so within a very limited notion of formal relationships, and in so doing keeps the board in an arms-length relationship with constituents. In many cases it keeps board members, other than the Chairperson, at arms length to the CEO as well. In such a legalistic and formal model the prospect of a wide range of stakeholders to potentially feel disengaged is possibly quite high.

This model is however the one that appears to formally address many of the governance challenges that currently exists within the corporate world and perhaps, if adhered to in both principle and practice, would hopefully overcome many of the excellent examples of very poor corporate governance application that we have all become more and more familiar with in the Australian commercial world. Well known names have been embroiled in the aftermath of poor governance.

Another model often quoted in Australia is the Tricker model which seeks to delineate, along a mufti level plain, between functional aspects of inward and outward looking activity, past, present and future focus, and conformance and performance type activities. These plains are further categorized by reference to the key board functions of accountability, strategy formulation, supervision of executive activities and finally policy making.

But the question remains - is the way board governance handled in the nonprofit sector delivering for the 'communities'  that they serve, in terms of outcomes being consistent with those community expectations, and for that matter, societal expectations, or are we falling short because the focus is potentially too heavy on the legal and regulatory requirements that support the prospects of legal liability should something go wrong?

Is innovation being somehow starved for the sake of legal fundamentals? Whilst there is no doubt that efficient well run nonprofit organisations must be a fundamental aim of all who work and interact with these organisations, is there another way of delivering this whilst maintaining the confidence of those who fund these bodies?

Small to mid-sized incorporated nonprofits are experiencing massive resource challenges and yet boards remain, in many cases, stuck within the framework of complete separation between executive and managerial demarcations. In this manner, are nonprofits in Australia getting the most out of their boards?


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