Interviews & articles

Governance reviews in the arts: skill sets, recruitment and future-proofing

By Saxton Bampfylde

Governance and Board Reviews have long been topics of interest to Saxton Bampfylde and we have worked with a number of boards of leading arts organisations.

A recent area of focus for us has been governance reviews and arts boards have their own interesting challenges when it comes to governance as they look to balance the need to equip the board with the right skill set, recruit members who will future-proof the organisation and often add bench strength when it comes to fundraising and networks.

Why do a governance review?

There are some common themes that relate back to an organisation’s decision to carry out an external evaluation of its board. Some reviews have at their heart a concern around the clarity of purpose of the board – perhaps around strategy development - be that amongst internal and/or external stakeholders, and even sometimes amongst the Trustees themselves. More frequently, there can be a lack of clarity about the role of the board and the role of the executive committee, and the nature of the relationship that links the two. Chairs may want to address the size and structure of their board (possibly including board committees) for example, after comparison to other similar organizations; they can also wish to undertake a skills audit of the current members, often as a prelude to determining the profile of future appointments. It is not part of our role to sit in judgement on the functioning of a board or to seek to give ‘marks out of ten’ for performance. Boards and committees are led by their Chair (and Deputy Chair) and our function is to be a facilitator or adviser to the Chair / Deputy Chair and Chief Executive, to create an environment in which useful material for future development can be generated.

How to begin a review process

Any organisation thinking about its governance and the possibility of carrying out a review should first identify what it is they are seeking to address; is this a question around governance and the structure or make up of the board, or is it more of a question of effectiveness. Partnering with someone external to the board to carry out the review is best practice and will give you the outside perspective needed to consider areas for improvement, benchmarking and an outside view of dynamics. While best practice is to carry out an external review every three years, most board reviews will include a survey to be sent out to members and this presents an opportunity for organisations to continue to collect this data in the intervening years to identify any changes or trends. A good board review should include a skills audit that doesn’t just address what gaps are present in the current board, but any coming up in the future so that the Chair can work to proactively fill those gaps and start recruitment campaigns earlier.

As well as the more standard aspects of a governance review, increasingly we are seeing trend to including external stakeholders as part of the process – something that translates well into the arts and culture world where organisations may want the view of funders or external partners represented. While these people and organisations are not always well placed to comment on the structure of the board per-se, they can provide invaluable insight on how effective the board is seen by those outside the organisation. This facilitation of stakeholders is best done through a dual approach of interviews and access to any previously collected survey or data to inform these conversations.

Boards of arts organisations hold a unique responsibility to the organisations they lead and the sector. Ensuring these organisations have the right skills, experience and structure around them to provide the strategic lead for organisations navigating a changing sector and challenging funding environments must be a priority and governance is a key part of this.

Saxton Bampfylde is globally recognised as a trusted, values-driven leadership advisory firm. We have a firm commitment to the arts, culture and heritage sectors and are proud of the impact of the leaders our dedicated practice has helped bring to our clients. We advise a broad range of organisations and institutions, from the iconic and world-leading to the small and distinctive.

For an initial discussion about how we can help and discuss our range of leadership services, contact Ed Bampfylde: [email protected] / 020 7227 0862.

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