Governance is about how your group is run - the structures and systems and understandings that enable you to make the right decisions and set the right course.
In this help sheet, the term 'Committee of Management' (COM) is used but it is intended to apply to whatever governance structure your group has, such as a Board.
What the Committee of Management (COM) does is governance; what the CEO does is management, although the two functions can overlap to some extent at the upper levels. (And in some smaller or newer groups without paid staff, the governing body may in fact be responsible for both. Still, you need to know the difference.)
Governance isn't your actual policies, either, or your mission or your direction; it's how your organisation decides what that mission and that direction and those policies are.
There's no one perfect organisational solution, and a community group can do very well under a number of possible structures of governance. What you're looking for is a structure that can combine:
Everybody who has an interest in a decision, and everybody who has information about the topic, should be able to be heard; if possible, everybody who has an opinion on the subject should be listened to.
After everyone has been heard a decision has to be made, and that decision must be implemented wholeheartedly across the organisation.
Ease of use
As far as possible the system should be transparent, flexible, and straightforward. It should be possible to see immediately who's responsible for what, and how that responsibility relates to the whole mission and to other sectors of the organisation.
Approaches to governance
Community groups have always prided themselves on a style of governance that is (at least when compared to large commercial enterprises) informal, consultative, and relationship-oriented. The task of a leader in this system is to nurture a vision of what could be, and then inspire people to participate in its implementation.
Bureaucracies have traditionally focussed on rigid procedural systems that exhaustively document every passage of paper through a hierarchy of decision-makers until a final judgement is made. The task of a leader in this system is to ensure that there is no leakage of laxity into the office and that all safeguards are strictly enforced.
One of these approaches is more accountable, one is more entrepreneurial, but both have their virtues. Modern community group governance must seek to combine both, projecting a vision and ensuring that all accountability safeguards are in place.
The Committee of Management (COM)
The Committee of Management (COM) is at the head of the group's structure of governance. The COM of an incorporated association has total authority, under the law, until some of that authority is parcelled up and given away (delegated) to others.
Final decisions on important issues must always pass by the COM. It is up to the COM to create the other organisational structures that will make it possible to carry out the mission.
The COM must
- Establish a clear mission and vision. Set up the light on the hill that will guide the group in dark times
- Identify the organisation's core values. What are the guiding principles that drive the group's response to events?
- Define the organisation's programs and services. Assessing the need in the community, analysing opportunities, and developing a strategic plan based on your resources.
- Obtain needed resources and community support. COM members need to be comfortable 'selling' the mission of the group and participating in fundraising activities.
- Provide financial oversight and ensure the organisation meets its legal and financial requirements. Developing budgets, monitoring program activities by tracking key performance indicators, managing investments, and reviewing financial statements.
- Develop appropriate risk management practices. Gaining an understanding of the risks the organisation faces and its ability to obtain insurance for some of those risks.
- Select leaders for management positions. Choosing the Chief Executive Officer and monitoring their performance. Governance is not necessarily about doing: it is about ensuring things are done. The COM must be definite about its performance expectations, must assign these expectations clearly, and must check to see that these expectations are being met.