The boards that govern Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who deliver social services face a range of complex challenges. They must secure sustainable funding, comply with changes in the law and manage the increasing demand for their services and the increasing complexity of the people and communities they serve.
Strategizing and planning are much needed functions for these NGOs in a context where government policy, funding and client needs are constantly changing. The responsibility for strategy is generally considered to lie with the governing body.
This research sought to understand how the boards of social service NGOs approached their governance role, and in particular, their approach to developing strategy.
In-depth qualitative interviews with 36 Board members and Chief Executives were completed, drawing from 12 different NGO social service providers. The results were then reviewed by NGO leaders, academics and governance experts in order to ‘sense-test’ the findings and draw implications and recommendations.
The research found that for smaller NGOs attracting skilled board members is a challenge. For some of these organisations, the governing body operates like a ‘management committee’, who works to support the Chief Executive, fundraise and may even help in the delivery of services. For these organisations, the strategy and planning functions associated with governance may not occur.
Constitutional structures, such as elected and representative structures, may also create a barrier for many NGOs to getting an effective governing board with the necessary mix of skills and experience. Given the importance of NGOs, and the need for them to navigate their future in a complex environment, the research discusses a range of implications of the findings. There are implications for the funders of these NGOs in how they structure their funding and invest in NGO governance capability; for the NGO sector in terms of the understanding of and value placed on the governance function; and for the governance community to promote the value of and continue to contribute to NGO governance, especially of smaller NGOs.