Not-for-profit agencies need to ensure a clear definition between strategic and operational activity, Bay of Plenty social agencies heard this week.

More than 40 agencies attended the ‘speed dating’ event for not-for-profit groups looking for new board members organised by SociaLink, the Western Bay umbrella group for social service providers and community organisations, and  the Institute of Directors’ Bay of Plenty branch.

The panel members were Anchali Anandanayagam, Peter Farmer and Jana Rangooni.

Anandanayagam is on the boards of Women in Film and Television NZ and the Asylum Seekers Support Trust, and chairs the board of Thankyou Payroll. Peter Farmer is a founder of the Farmer Group and is involved with many community organisations. Jana Rangooni is CEO of the Radio Broadcasters Association and on the boards of Paralympics New Zealand and the Advertising Standards Association.

Anandanayagam said lines were often blurred between governance and management in small organisations as they ran lean teams and governance often needed to ‘muck in’ in operational matters.

Rangooni said agencies’ meeting agendas needed to line up and if there was too much operational work appearing in the agendas they had it wrong.

Farmer said there was often a lack of carefully thought through strategic plan for some organisations. If the board hadn’t set a clear pathway to success the whole organisation would lose its focus.

Agencies needed to focus on actions and decisions to “make the boat go faster,” he said.

The work needed to be fun, as agencies usually worked with volunteers, and a good chair could make or break the culture of an organisation.

Boards needed to get expert guidance when needed, have the right skill balance and not be hijacked by staff agendas.

Health and safety was a significant compliance obligation for not-for-profits and it was essential to get the right advice to keep volunteers and others safe.

Most agencies were purpose driven with more stakeholders and passionate volunteers to consider than commercial boards, Anandanayagam said. Many board members had not been on a board before.

Farmer said it was important to get major stakeholders involved and major funding sorted before moving to “cake stalls” and other fundraisers.