Running an organisation effectively

Christian Leadership

A group of people with appropriate skills, time and information can make well balanced decisions together. Photo: Richard Hanson/Tearfund
A group of people with appropriate skills, time and information can make well balanced decisions together. Photo: Richard Hanson/Tearfund

compiled by Helen Gaw.

One important area of leadership is governance. Organisational governance is the process of overseeing an organisation. It involves making sure the organisation's work is done effectively and well. Often, it is a legal requirement for a registered organisation to have some kind of governing body.  

Governing bodies can have different names, for example, a council, an advisory committee or a Board. In this article we use the term 'Board'. The Board members provide leadership to the organisation alongside the person in charge of managing the organisation. In this article we call that person the 'Executive Director' but she or he can have other titles such as Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Boards have overall responsibility. Governance is about overseeing and ensuring, rather than doing. It means ensuring that the organisation is well managed, without having to be involved in the management. A Board considers the following issues:

  • recruiting and supporting the Executive Director to manage the work
  • why the organisation exists - identifying its mission, purpose, vision and values
  • what work the organisation will carry out - strategic planning
  • legal requirements
  • resources, such as funding and people
  • assessing progress.

Why is it important that organisations have a well-run Board?

The benefits of a well-run Board are:

  • Better decisions are made because different points of view are shared and considered thoughtfully
  • The organisation is run more effectively. As the Board members are not involved in the day-to-day details of running the organisation, they are able to take a wider view of the issues facing the organisation. If the Executive Director is overseeing the work of the organisation as well as managing its operations, he or she may experience a lot of pressure and be unable to see the wider view as well as the day-to-day details. A Board releases the Executive Director to focus on managing the operations well.

The risks of not having a well-run Board are:

  • The organisation is vulnerable to mis-management and poor decision-making
  • Donors may withdraw funding if there is no evident accountability to ensure funds are spent well
  • Too much power lies with one person. If that person abuses his or her power, the people the organisation exists to serve may suffer.

Further reading

ROOTS 10 - Organisational governance

This book aims to help Board members and those managing Christian development organisations to consider their different roles and how they can work together to fulfil the organisation's mission.

Available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Download copies free of charge from the tilz website, or order paper copies by sending an email to roots@tearfund.org or writing to the Tearfund address on the resources page.

The material in this article has been adapted from ROOTS 10 - Organisational governance.

Questions to consider

  • What issues does our Board struggle with?
  • How do our national or local culture and experience influence our view of governance?
  • How good is the relationship between the Board and the Executive Director in our organisation? In what ways could it be improved?