Role of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)
The role of CSOs in the society is quite broad and encompasses a multitude of matters that are primarily targeted toward the general welfare of the society.
Since most CSOs choose a particular field or section of society and devote their entire resources toward fulfilling that particular need, the role of CSOs is quite vast.
Civil society is therefore seen as an increasingly important agent for promoting good governance like transparency, effectiveness, openness, responsiveness and accountability.
Saying that we would like to emphasise the important role of the civil society sector: contributing to building a democratic inclusive responsible society.
You can find numerous definitions of the word “governance”.
- The English word “governance” comes from the Latin word meaning “to steer, guide, or direct.” The term generally refers to the way in which power is assumed, conveyed, and exercised within a society or an organisation. It is a sharing of decision-making authority so that power and resources don’t accumulate in the hands of a single individual or group.
- “a transparent decision-making process in which the leadership of a nonprofit organisation, in an effective and accountable way, directs resources and exercises power on the basis of shared values.”
- Good NGO governance is based on the distinction between organisational entities (management and the governing body) and the distribution of decision-making power between them. This arrangement helps restrain and moderate the control of any one person or group, ensure the organisation’s resources are well managed, and safeguard the CSO’s public-service orientation
We can clearly see that the definitions for Governance contain key democratic principles in their descriptions themselves. Governance is often described as democratic by its nature.
Two different meanings of Governance should be taken into account.
Governance = the way the organisation is steered. It includes both Management (executive power) and Governance/Leadership (strategic, key decisions and lawmaking power)
Governance = one of the branches of Power, responsible for strategic visioning and key decision making. You will see the difference when we speak about Division of Power.
We know that in many European languages these terms may differ. If you find appropriate ones, it can help you in understanding.
We will meet many different terms in English. The difficulty is that different CSOs use different words for describing the same concepts. We provide you a list of synonyms:
Conference = Annual meeting = General meeting = General Assembly (in YMCA Europe) = World Council (in World YMCA)
Board = National Council = National Committee = Trustees = Executive Committee in YMCA Europe and World YMCA
President = Chairperson, Chair
National Secretary General (NGS) = SG = Chief Executive = CEO (Chief Executive Officer ) = Executive Secretary
Auditing Committee = Revisory Group, Revisory Board
We will try to stick to the terms marked in bold.
Principles of Good Governance
Taking into consideration Human Rights Based Approach and Democratic principles, we want to underline that “good governance” is about:
- Division of power;
- Representation and inclusiveness;
- Succession and youth empowerment;
- Legality and rule of law.
It is important not just to state the principles but understand how exactly they are implemented in an organisation. This is a crucial discussion of any CSO. Here are some examples.
|Division of Power. Examples|
|Representation and Inclusiveness. Examples|
|Succession and Empowerment. Examples|
|Legality and Rule of Law. Examples|
Conference is the highest governing body.
Ultimate decision-making. In associations, the most important decisions are made by the membership assembly. Such decisions are crucial to the life of the CSO and involve such things as the mission, accepting the Strategic Plan, electing the Board, the President and the Auditing Committee, receiving reports from them, recognising their work as satisfactory or not, accepting or expelling member organisations or dissolving the organisation.
The responsibility to make such decisions can’t be delegated. But the highest governing body can delegate other responsibilities to a principal governing body.
Board is the principal governing body.
Governance. Usually there is a separate body that exercises ongoing governance functions, such as setting the organisation’s policies and strategies, deciding about ways of implementation of the Strategic Plan and monitoring this process, approving the operational plan, thinking about searching funds for its implementation, approving the budget, hiring chief executive and evaluating his/her job, creating committees, elaborating by-laws, etc.
This body often delegates actual implementation of its decisions to professional staff (paid or unpaid) or a properly constituted sub-committee.
Although it is accountable to the highest governing body, it is authorised to make many decisions on behalf of a CSO.
Staff is the management team.
Management. A separate body or person often executes the decisions of the highest and principal governing bodies and manages the CSO’s everyday activities: elaborating and implementing the operational plan, dealing with everyday communication, managing finances, managing projects, reporting about the fulfilled work, etc.
The body or person is accountable to the Board .
Control and audit. Sometimes CSOs have an additional body that monitors how decisions are made and executed, how funds are used, and whether laws are observed. It looks that all activities that correspond to the mission and the Constitution, that finances are spent in accordance with the approved budget, that the processes are undertaken according to approved procedures, that laws of the organisation are not broken, etc.
This supervisory board is independent of the board and reports directly to the highest governing body. To make informed decisions it usually has the right to attend board meetings, examine documents and observe activities of the CSO but has no voting rights at the Board meetings.
The board chair will usually have to ensure that the supervisory board is fully informed and able to fulfil its duties.
Being a Board member is a separate role with a list of functions (described in the Constitution or other documents). Being on Board does not mean just representing your Organisation. It has a separate list of tasks and duties. This is a separate role.
|Basic Responsibilities of the Board|
Key Duties of the Board members
Even though board members shouldn’t be paid for their work, a written “role description” is very useful. It can help board members understand what they need to do at the board meetings and beyond and prioritise their activities . It’s also a good tool for letting new board members know what’s expected of them.
- Know and support the mission of the organisation.
- Attend board meetings regularly.
- Prepare for meetings in advance.
- Maintain confidentiality about sensitive cases (not about decisions!)
- Offer informed and impartial guidance.
- Avoid special agendas and conflicts of interest.
- Participate in committees and special events.
- Support the chief executive.
- Take part in resource development.
- Promote the organisation in the community.
Key Duties of the President
The role of the President (Chair) is not always self-evident, but usually the last thing a chair wants to admit is uncertainty about the role . A big help is to have a set of basic expectations available in writing (role description). These might include:
- Scheduling board meetings.
- Setting meeting agendas (with the chief executive).
- Leading discussions at meetings; especially following agendas and observing all rules of order.
- Coordinating any board activity outside of meetings.
- Participating in Committee meetings or keeping in good contact with their Chairs
- Overseeing the hiring and performance evaluation of the chief executive (NGS).
- Ensuring the board performs its job well and evaluates its own performance.
- Representing the organisation in public.
Qualities and Skills of Board Members
This is list of qualities and skills of efficient Board members for consideration, a skills audit should be undertaken on an annual basis:
- Shares mission, values of the organisation
- Strategic type of thinking, capable to see risks and potentials
- Interest in the development of the organisation, indifference
- Thinks about the organisation as a whole, and not the interests of one local organisation, one program
- High level of competence in the field of “effective communication” and “conflict management”
- Possesses time to work with documents, attend meetings
- Knowledge of key documents, rules of the organisation (or time and interest to read them)
- Being bold and open-minded
- High level of inquiry and able to ask uncomfortable questions
- Team player
- Emotional Intelligence
- Minutes: to create, agree, disseminate. Always read the minutes before they are distributed to members.
- Enforce decisions
The material is created within the project “Organic Governance and Quality Development” supported by Erasmus+, Key Action 2 programme.
Movement Strengthening in YMCA Europe is aimed at building the capacity of organisations in different spheres including governance, internal policies, quality standards and strategic planning.