Interviews & articles

Gill Thewlis - Governance Now 2019 Speaker Interview

By Cultural Governance Alliance

This year’s Governance Now conference is all about practical solutions to common problems: how to anticipate and plan for the worst whilst delivering the best for your organisation.

In the run up, we caught up with Gill Thewlis - Director at Aperté - to hear her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of ‘good governance’.

Gill Thewlis
Gill Thewlis

On the governance today and in the future

What are the most pressing governance challenges facing the culture sector today

The need for boards to be able to deal with the bad times as well as the good, which means being financially equipped to make effective decisions and have hard strategic conversations. Finding properly equipped board members remains challenging for many organisations, particularly outside the very large cities.

Have you seen any changes in the way cultural boards manage board performance over the last 5-10 years?

There is a bit more interest in evaluating their performance – but its not yet universal. To many boards still don’t have clear terms of reference and guidance for board members in executing their roles and are not operating effectively enough.

What’s the greatest opportunity that sector-wide good governance might bring?

Improved resilience across the sector and greater strategic strength.

How do you see the governance of culture evolving over the next few years?

As funders get more demanding, I think it will become more professionalised.

What can we learn from other sectors - in the UK and internationally - about good governance?

I can’t really comment about internationally, but seeing board positions in cultural organisations of all sizes as legitimate non-exec roles equivalent to those in the private sector may help.

What’s the future of cultural governance in one word?


On your career

Tell us about your first governance role. How did you learn the ropes?

I joined the Warwick Business School Alumni Board and went on to chair it – and also was a member of the Advisory Board for the Business School, which at the time had a very effective Chair.

What governance challenges are you facing at the moment and what are you doing to overcome them?

I don’t currently sit on any boards as I do not wish to ever find myself in a conflict of interest situation, as a self-employed consultant.

What are the qualities of a good trustee?

The ability to balance support and challenge. Excellent financial skills and an enthusiasm for thinking strategically and using data-based decision making. Commitment to the organisation and its mission.

What advice would you give prospective trustees/(or chairs) in the cultural sector

Get under the skin of the organisation, immerse yourself in its work so that you have a proper felt understanding of its mission and vision and impact. Get involved between board meetings in advocacy and fundraising. Don’t be afraid to interrogate the financial position, make sure you understand it fully so that you can make good decisions.

Anything else on your mind at the moment?

Organisations need strong board members more now than ever before!

We hope you’ll join Gill and a host of other fantastic speakers at Governance Now 2019 — the flagship conference for culture sector trustees and professionals.

Governance Now takes place at the Friend’s Meeting House, London on 8th November 2019. Book tickets here.

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