BLOG: Making cross-sector boards work

Creating a governance framework that harnesses the combined strength of individuals from the public, private and voluntary sectors has been at the heart of our charity’s federated approach for the best part of a decade.

Whilst we’ve developed a replicable operational and funding model, each Youth Zone is unique as it is shaped by the local community it serves.

The participation and commitment of appropriate sections of that community is essential in ensuring the facilities and services respond to local needs analysis and remain relevant over the long-term.

To facilitate and embody this shared ownership, we set up independent boards of trustees for each Youth Zone that ‘locks-in’ representation across youth work, local authorities and local businesses.

Alignment is key

Cross-sector boards ensure the interests of stakeholders remain aligned and that each Youth Zone is founded on a solid and sustainable philanthropic community partnership.

In our experience, this mix enables Youth Zones to closely reflect the diverse needs of the communities they serve and that responsibility doesn’t fall unfairly on one stakeholder group over another.

The composition of these teams must be considered if they are to have the desired impact on strategy, funding, management and accountability.

Business leaders are naturally willing to invest time and money in their local communities, but many will be looking for focused roles that play directly to their strengths.

The board should be designed to facilitate this, providing a clear, structured set of meaningful responsibilities in areas where their input will create the most value. This could be in key areas such as marketing, law, accountancy, youth services, safeguarding or private sector networking.

Likewise, local authority representatives can be responsible for ensuring provision remains aligned to wider strategies and what is being delivered by other partners in the community.

It is up to the charity itself to ensure these diverse and complementary skill sets are harnessed in a professional, efficient manner and that responsibilities, accountability and effort is equitably spread.

Remaining in tune

Whilst charities will naturally benefit from cross-sector experience and expertise on their board, ultimately decision-making needs to be directly influenced by the people they are looking to support.

Increasingly it falls on all sectors of society to find ways of working together to support their communities.

An enabling framework is key, but ultimately it is a willingness to collaborate and a sense of shared purpose that makes cross-sector boards work.

Kathryn Morley is chief executive of OnSide Youth Zones, a charity which works with philanthropists, local authorities and communities to develop high-quality, safe and affordable places for young people to spend their free time

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