Above: Professor Yvonne Harrison.
By Stephen Easton
A university professor from New York will explain how tough economic times for charities and nonprofit organisations present an opportunity to adapt and change, in a keynote address at the Australasian Better Boards Conference this July in Melbourne.
Yvonne Harrison, Assistant Professor of Public Management at the University at Albany – State University of New York, will tell the nonprofit leadership and governance conference that boards need to take a stronger leadership role than they have traditionally.
In her keynote speech, she will address the hard times that charities and not-for-profits (NFPs) all around the world are experiencing, due to the global economic downturn, and explain “opportunities for change, new directions and new ways of thinking about leadership”.
“While nonprofits didn’t cause [the global financial crisis], there’s certainly no bail-outs for them,” Professor Harrison said.
“Governments around the world are trying to respond and they’re taking a serious look at the nonprofit sector, as your government has with the ACNC, which is an important step to help streamline these [regulatory] processes and make it easier for nonprofits [to operate].
“… But governments can only do so much, then part of it becomes a ‘people problem’. How do boards of directors who are governing these organisations … approach these challenges, and how do they view their role? [What is] their perspective on who the nonprofits serve, and who are the primary stakeholders?”
Using examples from her research and advisory work with charitable organisations in the United States, and a review of other academic literature, she aims to present the ‘bigger picture’ of the challenges and opportunities that currently exist in the NFP space.
The “frank” keynote speech would focus on governance, she said, “because nonprofit management has been front and centre for a long time, and nonprofit governance has stalled for a long time”.
Nonprofits need the leadership and expertise of their board members but in many cases their role has “withered”, according to Professor Harrison, who will also feature in three other sessions over the three-day conference.
On the final day, she will run a workshop for nonprofit board members, examining the results of a research project called Board Check-Up, which uses data collected from a free online self-assessment tool offered by the university.
“Oftentimes, the board’s own effectiveness or performance doesn’t really make it onto their own agenda; they might typically look at the performance of the organisation and the performance of the chief executive, but rarely do they do a self-examination of their own performance.
“…There are many scholars who have shown that self-evaluation is one of the few good governance factors that has been linked empirically to improvements in performance, and we’re trying with this research to really test whether that is the case.”
Using the self-assessment tool, she said, had created opportunities for the board and management to discuss each other’s roles, and deal constructively with the normal tensions that arise from different views on operational efficiency.
“There’s always tensions. It’s important to recognise in organisations that you have these different values and the tensions do exist. Some leaders are focused on goals and objectives, like profit, yet other people might value the human relationships in how the organisation works, or the quality of its management, and how that leads to profit.”
Second exclusive giveaway for AAA enews readers:
Congratulations to Kathleen Goldsack on winning our free ticket to CEO’s day on Friday 27 July at the Better Boards Conference! Ms Goldsack is CEO and director of nursing at Riverview Lutheran Rest Home.
AAA now has two full conference registrations to give away for the main event – the sixth annual Australasian Better Boards Conference on the weekend of 28 and 29 July – at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
If you are a board member, chief executive officer or a senior manager from a nonprofit organisation, please use the comments box below this story to provide your name, position and the name of your organisation. Airfares and accommodation are not included, so please only enter if you will be able to attend.
Entries close 5pm, Tuesday 12 June. A random number generator will be used to decide the winner, who will be notified by email.