When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

April 14, 2023Category:

When we join the board of a community organisation or not for profit, we are filled with a desire to help change the world. We are passionate around our cause and just know we can make a real difference in our community.

But do we actually know what we are doing?

East Coast Bays Community Project (ECBCP) was set up in Browns Bay more than 30 years ago. I was president of the local Plunket and part of the team that fought to get a community house for the Bays. I was so proud.

Recently, I returned to Browns Bay and was keen to get back into working in the community, so I joined the Board of ECBCP. A year later I became the chairperson, full of ideas to expand our reach and value in the community.

We manage the Community Centre in Browns Bay which provides spaces for classes and events plus we are also involved in community engagement, running events etc.

There was something wrong though, as we weren’t attracting funding and our reach into the community was less than it should have been. There had been a suggested change of name to Heart of the Bays and Debbie, our centre manager, had commissioned a new logo to start a change of identity.

This sounded positive and we worked hard to refresh our strategic plan and set goals but there was one area that we had only skipped over in our review – our Governance; the foundation on which we would build this new organisation. We discovered that this had been true of our committees/boards for a long time.

A decision to offer training to our board members resulted in our secretary, Kathy and I, attending our first ANCAD LiiFT Aotearoa training courses on the changes to the Incorporated Societies Act, plus a starter course on Governance.

We came out shell-shocked as we realised how much poo we were in (technical term!). There was so much we needed to do as we realised that our governance processes and procedures had not been updated for years. We were seriously frightened by what we had discovered. Our HR contracts were out of date. There had been no regular checks on our processes, health and safety and so much more.

This is where ANCAD and their LiiFT Aotearoa professional development sessions and courses came to the rescue. We signed up for as many courses as we could, plus mentoring, to ensure that we not only attended the courses, but could implement the learning as well.

It has been a huge journey, but we have learned a lot and can now be confident that the governance systems at Heart of the Bays are up to date and fully compliant.

Why is this important? Why do organisations fail to deal with this?

As an incorporated society and a registered charity, we are legally responsible for running an organisation that meets all the legal requirements.

But, of course, boards change. Our passion is for the work in the community, making a difference, so governance can get pushed to the side. Boards change sometimes yearly and so there is a lack of institutional knowledge on what has happened before and so it is easy to assume things are alright when they aren’t. We make sure that the financial records are accurate as we need to know about that area to survive, but it is easy to overlook everything else.

When did you last check the governance of your organisation? If you employ staff, when did you last update their contracts and job descriptions? Things have changed in employment law. Without these regular reviews it is very hard and time consuming to handle employment issues.

By attending virtually every course that ANCAD ran last year with the LiiFT Aotearoa programme, we now understand our legal responsibility as board members. We learned about governance and our roles, how to apply for funding and so much more. It showed us that we need to explain these responsibilities to prospective board members so that they understand that they are joining an organisation that takes its governance seriously. When they join, we will send them on these courses so that they understand their role. This is not only important for the organisation, but it is also a gift that we can give to new board members who are volunteering their time for their community.

Thanks to the courses at ANCAD, Heart of the Bays is now a well governed organisation. We have legally changed our name and ensured that all our information, bank accounts, supplier records etc., are up to date. We have completely reviewed all our systems, including insurance and HR and we have instituted annual reviews to ensure that we never get into a mess like this again.

ANCAD and its staff and their associated consultants are a fantastic resource for all of us. We are going into some unsettling times with all of the changes to the funding landscape. We all need to ensure that our organisations have a strong foundation going forward. We need to show funders that we take our roles seriously and are worthy of consideration.

This year we are so lucky as ANCAD with the LiiFT Aotearoa programme are offering their Governance Matters series free on Zoom, so there is no excuse for not taking advantage of them. They are also offering them in the evening, which is something we pushed for last year, as some of our board members work full time and couldn’t attend during the day.

Heart of the Bays had gone down a black hole and it is taking a lot of work to regain our position in the community. But we are proud of all the things we have achieved and ANCAD has been a key part of this success.

We all join organisations to make a difference, full of passion but we don’t always think about the governance side. Some of us may be scared to dip into things we don’t understand, but this can be a reward for our work. Taking part in training courses increases your knowledge and if a group of your board members attend, it is a great team building exercise.

Thank you ANCAD for all the work you do to support your local community and us. In this new and scary funding environment helping to build solid, well governed entities is going to make a real difference.

Pam Martin
Heart of the Bays