Reinvigorating your board

At its most basic there are two key ways to generate change or activity amongst trustees – by instilling fear or building enthusiasm. Fear works well to remind what can happen if boards aren’t functioning as they should be or where they’re not clear about their vital role in the organisation.

But, it can also lead to knee-jerk reactions, meaning that things are not well thought through or that policies change but not the practice of how they’re implemented. Risk management becomes about a document, rather than an approach that builds the ability of the board to make good decisions and to create an organisation that is able to look ahead, be flexible and respond to events or threats as they happen.

We’re all familiar with the drip-feeding of disaster stories and reports of bad practice amongst charities. So for a change, why not focus on generating new interest, excitement and discussion about how trustees could do things differently? Enthusiasm tends to lead to more effective individual trustees and a stronger board.

Ideas for generating enthusiasm

Trustees are generally good people who want to make a difference. Here are some suggestions for helping them to be excited about being a trustee, whether they’ve been around for a while or are new to the role.

Remind them how vital their role is and thank them for giving their time

Organisations can lose sight of the importance of the board’s leadership role and the fact that trustees are an asset to be invested in. Let trustees know they’re appreciated. Say thank you.

Reconnect the trustee role with the end experience of the service user or beneficiary

It’s easy for a trustee to get caught up in being part of the board, coming to meetings and losing sight of the original reason they decided to become a trustee with your particular organisation. Help them to reconnect with their original passion for the work, the belief that things can be different, that led them to come to work with you, rather than with any of the hundreds of other charities in their local area.

Help the board to really understand how the needs of users (whoever they might be) need to drive planning; how impact is created when actions are delivered against a very clear vision; how monitoring and evaluation help ensure you’re on track.

Generate discussion about organisational and board culture

In my experience people get excited about the idea of culture. It’s an intriguing thing – sort of slippery and hard to get hold of, but key to everything about how an organisation and a board operates. A culture that encourages review and reflection is one more able to change and adapt. An organisation that can change and adapt is giving itself the best chance to be sustainable and survive the many challenges that are out there.

Ask the question ‘are there things that the board could do differently?’

How does the board currently review itself and how it operates? How about asking an external person to help with this?

At the simplest level, could you encourage trustees to sit in a different chair around the table at the next board meeting? A simple way to demonstrate how quickly habits and patterns become established, which can lead to complacency or a lack of creativity. How could you help generate a curiosity amongst trustees about how and why they do things as they do?

In my experience when boards promote the fact that it’s an exciting time of review or change, the message is clear that this is a with-it, forward-thinking board that is open to change, and that appeals to potential new trustees.

PQASSO quality area 2 ‘governance’ as a review tool

All of this of course leads to the question of how to do these things. One way that can work really well is to copy the PQASSO ‘governance’ quality area from the PQASSO Workpack and to suggest that the board use this as a framework to help them review all aspects of how they operate.

The board ensures that the organisation is governed effectively and responsibly. It demonstrates accountability to stakeholders, and has the skills and information it needs to achieve the organisation’s mission and uphold its values.

This standard and the indicators which flow from it create the basis for the board to reflect and self-assess itself, and to identify what needs to be happening differently for it to be the most effective it can. Also, to ensure its governance is legally compliant, safe and fit for purpose. And most importantly, that trustees are re-enthused about their role and feel excited about coming to board meetings. If your trustees aren’t feeling this, then there’s work to be done.

For information about PQASSO and how it could help your board, visit the website or email


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Caroline Cook is the PQASSO programme manager at NCVO, Caroline was previously a consultant for many years working with a variety of boards around governance review, strategy and sustainability.

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