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Taking kindness to a national level

Jul 16, 2019

I was invited to speak this month at the British Universities’ International Liaison Association (BUILA) conference in Belfast. The topic was ‘The Future of Internationalisation: re-anchoring the UK to its new place in the world’.

I shared some research undertaken by Simon Anholt (due to be keynote speaker at the European Association for International Education conference in September 2019), who works with Heads of Government and Heads of State and has helped over fifty countries to engage more productively and imaginatively with the international community.

He developed a vast worldwide database of ordinary individuals and asked them which other countries they rate highly and why. The answer was that the kinds of country we admire, the ones with the best global reputations, are ‘good’ countries, those that contribute something to the world in which we live, making it safer or better or richer or fairer. Anholt defines ‘good’ in this context as ‘the opposite of selfish’.

But does being ‘good’ make business sense?

According to Anholt’s research, the answer is yes. The argument goes something like this:

  • Governments care hugely about their country’s reputation on the world stage.
  • Research shows that ‘good/unselfish’ behaviour on the part of a country makes people respect that country and want to do business with it.
  • So it’s possible to make a case to government that the more you act unselfishly, the more you reach out, collaborate with others and contribute to the global community, the more competitive (in the sense of economically successful) you become.

This thinking led to the creation by Anholt of an annual ‘Good Country Index’ which ranks countries for their contribution to the rest of the world according to seven dimensions including World Order, Planet and Climate, Prosperity and Equality, Health and Wellbeing.

The UK performs quite well but its position appears to be slipping.

Individual behaviour as a starting point

It struck me that this national behaviour has links to individual behaviour.

As we consider what we want people in other countries to say about the UK, it may help to think about a room full of people.

Do we want to be seen as the arrogant know-it-all who may be pretty good at some stuff but wants to be the centre of attention and have everyone gravitate towards them? Or do we want to be seen as the helpful, generous, open-minded friend who is willing to listen and learn and reach out to help resolve problems? Do we want to be inward-facing and self-centred or outward-looking and interested in others?

Re-reading Shaun Horan’s post on this site Better to be kind than to be right?, some of the characteristics of kindness that he highlights are highly relevant. The concepts that resonate most are that ‘you can’t bring people with you if you are only focused on yourself’, you have to give up the need to ‘win’, and ‘if we could all get out of our own way, listen a bit more and speak a bit less, we could live in a better and richer place’.

From individual to institution

In a recent LinkedIn post, inspired by the work of Carnegie UK on ‘quantifying kindness, public engagement and place’, Susie Hills asked: ‘What would a kind university look like? How would its staff and students behave?’.

Well, I framed it in different terms in my conference presentation, but here are some examples of ‘good global citizenship’ which also have a seam of kindness (in the sense of considering others’ needs) running through them.

The University of Manchester is tackling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (on multiple levels, locally and internationally) as part of its core institutional priority of social responsibility.

The Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust’s joint PhD programme (stemming from a long-standing partnership between University of Malawi’s College of Medicine, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the University of Liverpool and the Wellcome Trust) helps to address health challenges relevant to Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s an example of a type of Transnational Education (TNE) that builds capacity in the host country and extends opportunities to those who are not in a position to pursue an extended period of study in the UK, using TNE as a tool for widening global access.

De Montfort University’s Square Mile India volunteering programme helps transform the lives of some of the poorest communities in Gujarat. At the same time, it provides a transformative experience for UK students, tapping into the growing desire among young people in the UK to make a social contribution.

In 2017 the University of Central Lancashire hosted medical students from the American University of the Caribbean when their facilities were destroyed by Hurricane Irma. The relationship between the two institutions has gone from strength to strength and their latest collaboration is a joint medical programme to help bring more doctors to countries and communities in need.

At Aston University, a project run by a Syrian academic has helped nearly fifty refugees from his home country to become entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, undergraduate languages students from universities in Sheffield and Cardiff have mentored pre-GCSE pupils. Among participating schools in Sheffield, this has helped boost GCSE languages entries by 43% (following years of decline). In so doing, it’s helping to open the eyes of students from poorer backgrounds to the opportunities arising from intercultural engagement.

From institution back to nation

It is not difficult to find examples of UK HEIs using their international expertise to support and engage with local and global communities (sometimes both at the same time). Some individual institutions are starting to give these activities prominence in order to convey messages about their institutional ethos and priorities.

However, these great stories are not currently being developed into a wider sector narrative. If, as a sector, we all got behind a national campaign to highlight our institutions’ global social responsibility, could we collectively help to re-position UK HE – and by extension the UK – as an actor which strives to address global issues and prepare the next generation of leaders to contribute positively to the wider world?

The #WeAreInternational campaign did a phenomenal job in reassuring prospective international students at a time when other national rhetoric made them feel unwelcome. Could we adopt a similar approach to help dispel any perception among overseas partners and stakeholders that the UK is retreating into self-centred insularity?

How about striving to become a sector characterised by kindness: one that is described by those in other countries not just as a world-class system, but as a world-class collaborator and friend?

Dr Vicky Lewis is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin. You can find a blog adapted from her BUILA presentation on her website.

Will Spinks joins Halpin’s Consulting Fellows

Jul 11, 2019

Halpin is pleased to announce the addition of Will Spinks to its team of Consulting Fellows.

A senior-level leader in higher education, Will joined the University of Manchester as Registrar, Secretary and Chief Operating Officer in June 2011. After retiring from his full-time post in September 2017, he was appointed as an Associate Vice President acting as an advisor to the Senior Leadership Team.

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Will Spinks

Prior to joining Manchester, Will was the first Chief Operating Officer of Loughborough University. Here he was responsible for all the service functions and the commercial activities of the University. In addition, he chaired and served on the Board of wholly owned subsidiary companies and the Manufacturing Technology Centre.

Will said, "I am delighted to be joining the team of highly experienced Consulting Fellows at Halpin and look forward to working with colleagues in the sector to help them meet the challenges they face."

Joint CEO Susie Hills commented, “Attracting someone of Will’s calibre is exciting news for Halpin. Will’s addition to our team of Fellows will bring great benefit to our clients, and we are looking forward to working with him.”

Read Will’s full biography here.

Campaign counting: smoke and mirrors?

Jul 04, 2019

I once took part in a very interesting survey of what was being counted in the income for University Campaigns. About 13 different organisations took part. How many ways of counting campaign income do you think we came back with.

Thirteen.

But does this mean that Campaign counting has no credibility, and is, as a number of people outside of the fundraising team may feel, just window-dressing?

Absolutely not.

No one institution counts in the same way, because no two institutions are exactly the same. A campaign should be about what you value, what behaviour you are trying to encourage, what areas you want to expand, what areas you want to encourage to work together.

Whilst it is sometimes a surprise to people outside of fundraising teams that not all of the money in Campaign is philanthropic income, all of those thirteen ways of counting were absolutely credible, based on the above factors. So what are the things you need to consider?

How should you count in Campaign?

We would suggest that a campaign counting policy should consider the following principles. The policy should:

  • Be objective, credible and transparent
  • Support the organisation’s strategy
  • Enable robust reporting and benchmarking (both internal and external)
  • Celebrate philanthropy
  • Create leverage opportunities
  • Be approved and supported by leadership and widely understood
  • Encourage the campaign to be widely owned throughout the organisation
  • Celebrate non-£ contributions
  • Demonstrate impact

That’s quite a list, but the first line of it is undoubtedly the most important. If you don’t take the time to explain internally what you count, why and how, you won’t convince the outside world. Your own organisation has to understand what you are doing and why, and they have to believe in it.

What income might you include?

When we work with clients, we take them through a practical list of all areas that have been included in campaigns across the sector. No institution everything – again it is about getting something that works for you. The following is an extract from the full list that we use, so consider your drivers, and consider what you might include:

Income

  • Major gifts
  • Leadership
  • Annual fund
  • Regular gifts
  • Staff gifts
  • Cash gifts from corporates
  • International government monies (for campaign projects)
  • Government departments, e.g. Arts Council, DIFD (for campaign projects)
  • Volunteer hours by alumni
  • Volunteer hours by students
  • Pro-bono support offered via projects

Impact/participation measures

  • Number of students benefiting
  • Research impact measures
  • Number of scholarships given
  • % alumni giving
  • % staff giving
  • % trustees/governors giving
  • Number legacy pledges

This list is of course focused mainly on Universities – the approach for Schools and Charities is easier in the sense that the majority of the money will be philanthropic, and the opportunity to include wider sources of income is harder. However, for medical research charities and those with wider income sources, it is again worth considering the key drivers – what kind of institutional behaviour do you want to encourage by undertaking a campaign?

Reporting

So, once you have your Campaign counting method clear, you have communicated it widely and everyone is on board, you have the investment needed, and you have clear projects and priorities, and a clear strategy, you are good to go. It’s time to take the campaign out of the institution and to see what donors and prospective donors make of it.

If you want help with deciding what you should count, putting together the strategy, and engaging external donors, we are the experts in all of those areas. We have run campaigns in house, and have advised on countless others. We have a very strong record of accurately predicting campaign potential, and we would love to help you achieve yours.

Shaun Horan is Joint CEO of Halpin - the home of experts in higher education fundraising

Are fundraising researchers our next sector leaders?

Jul 02, 2019

Prospect Research is now one of the fastest growing professions in fundraising. It grew from traditional desk based research, such as profiling potential donors and their gift potential, to prospect management, the process of monitoring a fundraising pipeline, and now sophisticated data analytics and due diligence.

The profession came under public scrutiny in 2016 when the ICO fined a number of big named charities for conducting ‘wealth screenings’ without being transparent enough. This tackle was played out under the shadow of GDPR’s arrival, which served to harden the ICOs stance - appearing at one point that prospect research might be snuffed out of existence forever!

This forced the sector as a whole to reflect deeply on the value that prospect research brings. In 2017 we saw a flurry of reactionary studies commissioned by the Institute of Fundraising that aimed to rescue prospect research from the ICOs unwittingly lethal misconceptions. Thankfully the mission was successful, and the necessity and legality of research practices was publically confirmed.

A welcome by-product of this exchange was that it served to highlight anew the value research professionals themselves bring to charities. Amanda Bringans, Director of Fundraising at The British Heart Foundation, during a Plenary at the Researchers in Fundraising Conference 2017, shared how GDPR and the ICOs dealings brought to her attention the researchers in her organisation like never before as, ‘unsung heroes’.

Yet despite the recent attention, it is demonstrably true that researchers do not share the limelight that other fundraising professionals do. Research based talks rarely if ever appear at the top fundraising conferences such as CASE Europe or IOF’s Fundraising Convention. Indeed, at IOF’s Fundraising Convention 2018, a three-day conference positioned to cover all aspects of fundraising, only 1 session related to the research sector, out of 90! Further, the National Fundraising Awards have no award related to the research profession but there are for Individual Giving, Events, Digital, Legacy, Donor Experience and more. Of course, there are specialist conferences that research professionals can frequent, yet there are for all of the above too.

Not only do researchers miss out on the limelight in this way but more intriguingly research is historically not a career path that leads to becoming a Head of or Director of Fundraising. Why? Is it because the profession is seen as young and has not yet asserted itself fully? Is it because researchers do not like to be ‘front and centre’? Or is it because researchers are not actually considered fundraisers? If you were to ask a researcher why, the latter is the likely answer they will give - a frequent rejoinder they incredulously recount.

The idea of researchers becoming Directors of Fundraising may raise all kinds of interesting questions about fundraising leadership. Should you have made any kind of funding ask to be a Head or Director of Fundraising? Can one lead a ‘face-to-face’ fundraising team if their predominant background is desk based? Can one know fundraising simply through monitoring it? Put simply, can researchers make good fundraising leaders and are we missing a trick by not readily considering them?

To answer this question we might first allow ourselves to agree on three basic qualities of a fundraising leader ought, at the very least, to embody; 1), sound interpersonal skills, 2), good decision-making and 3), a comprehensive understanding of fundraising.

When considering the first, Chris Carnie, one of the original prospect researchers in the UK who founded Researchers in Fundraising SIG over 25 years ago, and Founding Director of Factary, shared, ‘With permission to generalise, there is this stereotype of the researcher being a recluse, with thick glasses and a sharpened pencil.’ The notion here was that researchers are not traditionally considered to represent the interpersonal skills required for leadership, and this can hold back their professional growth. Chris goes on, ‘However, there is no evidence for this. In fact researchers have to be incredibly socially adept. Part of their role is to monitor pipelines and ‘sell’ prospects to fundraising teams, they have to do an awful lot of negotiating and pitching.’

In terms of the second, good decision-making, researchers are trained in data-led decision making - to prioritise information over intuition. Presumably, this can’t be a bad thing. When one looks at specific examples of how data-led strategies have benefited fundraising performance one repeatedly encounters some impressive stats. For example, The University of Bristol’s regular giving program jumped from £96,000 to £380,000 in one year when a data analytics program began for the first time. The income went on to go up steadily year after year through repeated data analysis until it now brings in circa £1m annually (University of Bristol, Presentation on Analytics, CASE Europe, Brussels, 2016). One would assume therefore that a researcher in a leadership position is able to utilize their training in this area, seeking and making sound decisions upon the information available.

Lastly, a comprehensive understanding of fundraising, may unexpectedly be the researchers strongest USP. Under inspection, the researchers role is to build, feed and closely monitor fundraising pipelines - from Trust & Foundations, regular giving, major giving, legacy and more. Within this, they report on & design KPI’s whilst researching individual & organisational philanthropic inclinations in depth. They even monitor individual fundraiser portfolios and encounter again and again which ask strategies are working and which are not. They put together sophisticated analytics that predict who will give, and map professional networks across vast seas of prospects. They also know where to find critical information, from the spooky to the most technical. The researcher role therefore, affords a unique and in-depth overview of fundraising like no other role in the sector! Contrast this experience with a fundraiser who may have worked their way up to Director level via one or two channels of fundraising alone, such as corporate or major giving. Who might be better prepared to now guide and manage all the other different channels newly reporting into them?

The burning criticism, which may be levied against the ‘researcher-leader’, is obvious but potent - that one cannot learn nor replace the intuition learned over years of actual face-to-face fundraising. For example, it is easy to understand how a successful major gift fundraiser may build an intuitive knowledge of who is ready to give and who is not. They may be able to read the subtle cues of a social occasion or the odd turn of phrase in an email that only their years of on-the-ground experience can provide. If that intuition were lost to senior management, it may mean that frontline fundraisers will not receive the one on one guidance they need from their leader to excel.

Whatever we think about the power of intuition in fundraising leadership, the point here is that the leader ought to be able to give sound one-to-one advice and support. Interestingly, Josh Birkholz, a world leading fundraising analyst at BWF may have something to add here. He recently studied masses of data on successful fundraisers to see what common features they shared. He found that,

‘The top 20% of producers [frontline fundraisers] worked with prospect development [researchers] twice as often as all other officers.’ - ‘Redefining Fundraising Metrics’, Researchers in Fundraising Conference 2017

Whatever council or support these researchers were providing it was clearly benefiting the fundraisers.

To summarise, this exploration was not to do down the traditional routes to leadership positions but to provoke the idea that researchers ought to be more readily considered as viable candidates too. Perhaps it’s time to look past the need of leadership candidates to have ‘direct experience’ of bringing in substantial funds themselves but to look at their overall ‘handle’ on the ‘fundraising machine’. Given the incredible increase in fundraising success provided by researchers so far, the sector could be missing a trick by not doing so. Whatever our true feeling about this, a gentle shift is occurring as there exists a very small minority of institutions ready to embrace researchers as their next leaders. The real test will be seeing how this new breed of leaders perform!

Jason Briggs is Consulting Fellow for Halpin - management consultants for higher education fundraising, governance, strategy and marketing.

This article was first published in Civil Society in a magazine circulated to all Institute of Fundraising members.

Announcement: Halpin declares climate emergency

Jul 01, 2019

Management consultancy firm Halpin Partnership has declared a climate emergency and set out its response plan.

Halpin has signed up with Natural Capital Partners for assessment and Carbon Neutral certification, with the target of being Carbon neutral by 2030 at the very latest.

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“We are aiming to be carbon neutral as soon as we possibly can be. We pride ourselves in working with kindness at Halpin and this is the most important commitment to that value that we can make. It is the right and kind thing to do for our team and our clients, for their children and grandchildren and for our planet.” Susie Hills, Joint CEO and Co-founder.

Halpin is best known for its work in governance, strategy, fundraising and marketing in Higher Education, and the firm also works with clients in the charity and arts sectors.

“We don’t yet know how quickly we can become carbon neutral, but we aren’t letting that hold us back from taking action – we are in the process of measuring our impact and setting out a plan to get there. As Greta Thunberg has pointed out very clearly, the crucial point is to declare our intent and build this goal into all our work.” Shaun Horan, Joint CEO and Co-founder.

Halpin has set out the following plan:

  1. Set a target date for being Carbon neutral (2030 at the latest)
  2. Measure our carbon footprint
  3. Encourage all team members to take public transport instead of driving or taxis
  4. Reduce flying where possible and offset any essential flights
  5. Reduce travel by use of video/telephone conferencing where possible
  6. Cut down our use of plastics, both personally and as a business and stop using single use plastics
  7. Buy local as much as possible and seek suppliers who are committed to becoming carbon neutral
  8. Offset our emissions through a certified scheme
  9. Reduce printing as much as possible and use recycled/FSC paper stock when we do print
  10. Enable action by empowering our employees to become activists, supporting them in using their power to push for change.

Asking on the first meeting: good practice, or scandalously impolite?

Jun 28, 2019

Nothing splits a room like asking this question: should you ask for a gift from a prospective donor on the first meeting?

At one end, you have the fundraisers who feel that you should: it shows the prospect why you are there, and starts them on the giving track. It avoids embarrassment later after months of building a relationship and not asking, and allows you to talk about transformational philanthropy.

At the other, you have the fundraisers who feel that is the height of rudeness. How can you ask when you have only just met them? You need to establish a relationship of trust first before you can ask for anything.

While I understand both extremes, and there are strong aspects of the truth to both approaches, I am squarely in the first group. But what I always stress is that I don’t advocate asking for the gift in the first meeting. I.e. The one that you hope will transform the institution. The really big gift. I advocate strongly to ask for “a” gift, the starting gift, the one that allows you to start treating them like a donor so that they can see how good you are at it. They can taste your organisation and see if they like the flavour.

Asking on the first meeting also shows how well you have been listening – can you ask them for a low-level gift that is in an area they have indicated an interest in? If you can, then the answer for them should be obvious. Don’t be tempted to over-ask on that first meeting either, the amount is not the point. It’s the participation.

If you ask well, politely, with enthusiasm and genuine belief, and in an area they have indicated they are interested in, there should be no way that you can cause offence. You will have set up the meeting in the first place (I hope) by saying that you would like to talk about them, update them on your institution, and talk about their support. If so, not to ask will seem very odd to them. And if you haven’t set up the meeting that way, why are you trying to hide the fact that you would like them to support your organisation financially?

Fundraising is nothing to be ashamed of. It is crucial. It helped to start the majority of our universities. It is the life-blood of the vast majority of our greatest charities. Asking somebody to make a gift is one of the greatest opportunities you can give, and it can transform the life of the givers just as much as the receivers. If you don’t believe it’s right to ask someone on the first meeting, what is holding you back, and why?

Asking more often also gives you much more practice in developing a style you are comfortable with, and asking well. Fundraising is many things: inspirational, motivating – but it is also a numbers game – the more people you ask, the more money you will raise.

None of this precludes you from building an excellent long-term relationship with a donor. Indeed, I would say it is the best way to start, allowing you to have entirely honest and often inspiring conversations. Building long-term relationships is hard work, it needs attention, listening, patience, kindness and thoughtfulness. None of that is short-circuited by asking at your first encounter, but it does mean that you are building on an honest base.

If the idea of doing this fills you with fear then that’s good – it’s not easy, it takes skill and time to learn the approach that works best for you. You can use that fear to sharpen your senses, and use your language and body appropriately. You should be tired after such a meeting – you’re not just there for a friendly chat.

If you want to get better at making the ask, or to train your senior leadership to do so, we would love to talk to you. Asking is really important in life generally, not just in fundraising.

People do things because they are asked. Work with us and we’ll prove it to you.

Shaun Horan is Joint CEO at Halpin.

Better to be kind, than to be right?

Jun 27, 2019

I remember listening to the actor Ricky Tomlinson on the radio many years ago. His father, he said, was loved by all who knew him, and he lived by a simple principle: It is better to be kind, than to be right.

That phrase has stayed with me over the years, but is it true?

We don’t appear to be living in very kind times. Reality TV is often extremely cruel, built on humiliating those taking part, and encouraging less than admirable behaviour in viewers who are asked to vote on someone’s worthiness or attractiveness. But their popularity suggests there is something in human nature that enjoys the spectacle of defeat – comparisons to the Roman amphitheatres aren’t new of course, but there does seem to be a thread tying the two together. And I’m not exempting myself from blame here, I watch as many of those shows as the next person.

We are deeply tribal as a species, as the whole Brexit debate has so painfully highlighted. Is cruelty and selfishness simply the more dominant part of our nature? Are we never as happy as when we are beating others? If that is so, why do we get such pleasure from small acts of kindness – giving gifts, helping someone in trouble, even simply making them a cup of tea? And why do people give away large sums of often hard-earned money to people they have never met, and may never meet?

As with so much in life, I suspect the answer is a complex mix, and there are professionals from all disciplines from theology to physics who could (and do) contribute to our understanding of it. Cruelty and kindness exist together in all of us, but we can choose which one should be our guiding principle. For my part, I agree with Ricky’s Dad, but that needs unpacking a little further as to what kindness means to me.

In working with Senior Leadership teams and individuals, we will often discuss how they can get the outcome they really want, if they are willing to give up the need to be seen to be right, and to “win”. I have sat in countless meetings where all parties could have walked away with exactly what they wanted, but their need to be publicly seen to be correct got in the way. I have often seen that the need to be “right” holds you back as a leader – you can’t bring people with you if you are only focused on yourself.

Kindness should be seen as an antidote to this. We all know being kind makes us, and everyone around us, feel better. So why don’t we use it more often? Probably because it can also make us a little vulnerable – what if someone takes advantage?

Well kindness isn’t about being a doormat, and letting everyone else do exactly what they want. That’s not kind to them or you. If someone is bad at their job, and needs to move on and do something else, it’s not kind to let them stay in a job they can’t do. It’s not kind not to tell a leadership team that they have made a collective mistake, and that the thing they wanted to do can’t be achieved. As consultants, we have often had to tell very painful truths, but it has always resulted in people being, ultimately, grateful for our honesty. That, I think, is because we weren’t telling them a painful truth to be seen to be right. Indeed often, I wish we didn’t have to tell them what they don’t want to hear! When a message has to be given, it is your duty to do it in the kindest way possible. To let people hear the news without hitting them in the face with it, laying out a clear path for what they do next.

So, kindness can be, and usually is, very challenging. It takes thought, and often fear. We know this in our private lives – it’s not kind to let a child eat what they wish at all times, or to let a partner take a path you know will make them unhappy, or to let a dog bark all night. The path to helping often means a difficult series of conversations, and some very hard work to change habits and behaviours.

But you can and should do all of this with kindness, and without needing to win. If we could all get out of our own way, listen a bit more and speak a bit less, we could live in a better and richer place.

Susie and I will be talking about how to bring this kindness into effective fundraising practice at the CASE conference in August this year. We’d love to hear your views, and we will share them with the audience.

Shaun Horan is Joint CEO of Halpin.

University governance: Some interesting questions from America

Jun 25, 2019

In a recent Wonkhe article, Peter Eckel of the University of Pennsylvania raises some interesting questions from American experience. He argues that, “like boards in England, American boards too often have been focused on oversight. It’s the essential stewardship role of governance. Yet, such a narrow focus that reviews reports, signs off on proposals, ensures compliance and ticks boxes is a lost opportunity. Too many boards in America… are mired in mediocrity driven by such a focus.”

He poses a quick quiz – “Which of the following apply to your governing board?

  • Much, if not most, board meetings are taken up by presentations.
  • Meetings tend to follow the same, expected agenda.
  • The board is polite with each other, prizing congeniality over collegiality.
  • The same few board members dominate most discussions; and when they stop talking, discussions tend to end.
  • The most consequential of institutional issues are addressed outside the board meetings, rather than inside it”.

I suspect that too many colleagues will recognise some of these behaviours in their Councils. He goes on to argue that board time is limited and precious and to be a well-performing board it is essential to plan agendas and ensure that time is spent appropriately on the separable aspects of oversight, problem-solving and strategy.

To my mind this emphasises the increasing need for regular governance effectiveness reviews which go well beyond compliance and challenge how the board is spending its time. This is particularly important when the sector is facing unprecedented challenge and the press and Parliament are questioning how much confidence the public can have in their Universities. It does not look good to read last week from UCU research that there are still 9 universities who have not removed their Vice-Chancellor from their Remuneration Committee.

The CUC Governance Code states “Governing bodies need to adopt an approach of continuous improvement to governance in order to enhance their own effectiveness.” The CUC recommends a review every 4 years and often reviews happen because one is due under the Code. I would argue that the culture needs to change to where Councils proactively see the benefits of regularly considering their performance and seeking ways of improving their effectiveness. External review with the benefit of examining best practice in the sector and outside the sector is useful, but ensuring there is a culture of continuous improvement between these reviews is even more important. This requires adequate resourcing of the governance function and an open-minded willingness on the part of Councils but especially the Chair, Vice-Chancellor and Secretary to be self-critical and to experiment.

Peter Eckel asks some basic but useful questions to start this process:

  • “What does the board do frequently that adds tremendous value to the institution?
  • What does the board do frequently that adds little value to the institution?
  • What does the board do infrequently that adds tremendous value? (And how can you do more of this and less of point two?)
  • How much agreement exists among board members as to the answers above?

He concludes: “Boards that work well can add value. Unfortunately, the inverse is also true: poor performing boards can become institutional distractions, which few can afford”.

Frank Toop is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin – experts in higher education governance.