Getting leadership right

13 May 2015
Author: Ben Jackson

Early on in the planning of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign (and well before it was even called IF) there were discussions about what lessons could be learnt from the Make Poverty History campaign.

Those who worked on Make Poverty History suggested that IF would benefit from having a board made up of CEOs from across the coalition - a leadership and decision-making structure that Make Poverty History didn’t have. 

If you decide to have a senior-level board in a future coalition, there are many other useful resources about establishing and running boards in the not-for-profit sector.

About the IF Campaign Board 

The IF Campaign Board was established early in the campaign's development. It was made up of CEOs from the founding member organisations and, as the coalition grew, the board expanded to include representatives elected from coalition members. The final board included fourteen CEOs. Establishing the board early on was important to ensure it was a legitimate part of the overall campaign structure. 

The board had three main purposes:  

  1. To set the high level strategy and direction of the campaign. 
  2. To resolve any major differences that could not be agreed by the Organising Committee (the body responsible for operational activities and decisions).
  3. To ensure there was sufficient senior level engagement to guarantee that the collective strategy was delivered.

Having the engagement and support from a wide group of CEOs was really important for the IF campaign. As the board members were responsible for the success of the campaign, they were in a good position to ensure that their individual organisations were able to step up and prioritise the campaign.

Establishing a board for your campaign 

Having a mix of founding members and elected representatives on the IF board worked well for two main reasons: 

  1. Having elected places brought additional transparency and accountability. It allowed all organisations, regardless of their size, to consider playing a role at the highest level of decision making. 
  2. There was a balance between the founding organisations – many who had previously been involved in large scale coalition campaigns  and representatives from organisations who had the ability to mobilise specific parts of the community, like young people and Muslim communities. This ensured a wider range of perspectives, knowledge and experience was represented on the board.

TIP: Early on in the campaign development, spend time planning who (both individuals and organisations) you need to have represented on the board. What skills do you need? Are there key organisations that should be represented? Do you need people with strong financial management skills? Should your board members be appointed or elected? 

TIP: When you recruit board members, be honest and realistic about the time people need to commit. This will be important to ensure you maintain strong attendance at meetings, engagement in board business and on-going commitment to the success of the campaign. 

Board meetings 

At the IF board meetings we ensured that there was adequate time on the agenda to cover three key things:  

  1. Review and reflection of what had happened to date, including checking delivered activities against our plans.
  2. Looking ahead to what was coming up, including ensuring that all representatives were clear on what further support or work was needed from their organisations' and the broader coalition members.
  3. Discussing and then making all necessary decisions about the strategy of the campaign.

Behind the scenes support 

Bond managed the central support role for the IF Campaign Board. Our experience taught us that it’s key to ensure you have realistic resources in place to adequately manage the business of the board. There needs to be on-going support and management to ensure that agreed decisions and actions are communicated, acted on and followed up. Do not underestimate the time needed to manage logistics of a senior level board. 

Communications 

Have a plan in place to ensure that board discussions and decisions are captured and then cascaded internally within coalition member organisations. 

In addition to circulating minutes and sharing written and verbal updates, the Chair and project manager of the Organising Committee attended all IF board meetings. We had board members participate in the monthly Assemblies that were open to all coalition members. This provided a good flow of information and helped build relationships. 

Three final tips 

While some of your board members may have worked together previously, it’s critical to invest time and energy to build good working relationships amongst board members. The Chair of the board and project manager should lead on this.

The board have the responsibility to make difficult decisions when necessary, for the greater good of the campaign. The Chair will need to balance people to articulating positions based on the perspective of their own organisation and ensuring that everyone continues to work towards the collective success of the campaign.

Have an exit strategy before the campaign ends. The Chair should ensure that the board have plans to wrap up their role and responsibilities, including finalising accounts, agreeing about future use of the branding and having plans in place to respond to any potential future risks.

About the author

Ben Jackson
United Purpose

Ben Jackson is global director of innovation and partnerships at United Purpose.