Living your values for purpose

- March 2021

The importance of living the values of your organisation through the Board was just one of the key lessons from Parbery Consulting’s second For-Purpose breakfast forum, held at the National Portrait Gallery on 17 March.

More than 50 people working in and representing For-Purpose Organisations (FPOs) attended the forum Talking Governance: Perspectives on change, adaptability and good For-Purpose governance.

The forum brought together four leaders from the sector with diverse experience and organisational expertise. Camilla Rowland, CEO of Marymead and Chair of Playgroup Australia, was able to reflect on her experience as both an executive and board member within the community sector. Frances Crimmins, CEO of YWCA Canberra and Chair of ACTCOSS, brought her own experiences from within the social services sector to the discussion. Mark Painting, CEO of the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) provided a different perspective from an independent organisation that is Not-For-Profit but that is owned by the Commonwealth and State Governments. Finally, Jeanette Dyer, shared her experience as a relatively new CEO of Roundabout Canberra, a small organisation in the early stages of growth and with evolving governance arrangements.

Values in a changing sector

Reflecting on the dichotomy of competition and collaboration in the sector, Camilla identified the complexities and shortcomings of competition and marketisation. One of her concerns was that market and political initiatives to create bigger organisations could lead to people in the most need being increasingly marginalised. For Boards of FPOs, the opportunities available through partnerships and increased collaboration should be at the fore of their strategy, particular with the increasing use of commissioning for outcomes approaches.

When establishing partnerships and collaborative agreements, it’s vital the Board looks at the alignment of values between the organisations. The panel agreed that Boards and organisations that compromised their values when establishing relationships were doomed to undermine the effectiveness of their service delivery.

Frances provided some great examples of how YWCA Canberra live their values, highlighting the diversity of Board representation and their active approach to ensuring young voices are heard. YWCA Canberra has a Board traineeship program and a requirement that 30 per cent of board directors are aged 30 or younger when appointed, sharing this approach to diversity through their Bringing on Board guide.

Governance structures

The panel discussed contrasting views about Federated and non-Federated governance structures. Camilla reflected on the history of federated structures and the perspectives of leading governance bodies like the Australian Institute of Company Directors, that federated structures are not ideal. At the root of these structures is the ongoing tension between the prerogative of the national body to work with the Commonwealth Government’s arrangements (working in the best interest of the organisation) and the state and territory members with a priority on their jurisdictional needs (which aren’t necessarily in the best interest of the national body).

Frances outlined why YWCA Canberra elected to remain an independent entity, while many other federated YWCA organisations across the country merged to be one entity. The reasons were simple according to Frances – the Board’s responsibility is to do what is in the best interests of the organisation, and by extension, the communities they serve.

A mix of independent and relevant skills amongst Directors was discussed as a critical element in ensuring that Boards focus on the best interests of the organisation. Mark noted that his organisation, NAATI, had an independent, skills based Board despite its federated membership model, ensuring the interests of the national body were best represented. Jeanette expanded on this theme, highlighting that a cogent governance framework is fundamental for an organisation to grow and adapt, as well as identifying the skills required in Board members to foster the change. Jeanette cited the COSO framework that Roundabout have employed to guide their development.

The panel also reflected that Boards should be aware that organisational culture lags well behind structure and governance changes, and the need for them to actively address organisational culture as part of any change transformations.

Balancing strategy and operations

The panel discussed the increasing need for Board members to be aware of their responsibilities regarding risk and compliance, particularly in response to recent changes in legislation relating to child and patient safety. It was noted that Boards can easily become more operationally focused as a result. As a counter-point, the panel stressed the need for Boards to actively engage in strategic planning.

This brought to focus the important and complex role that Board directors play in sustaining an organisation. It was a rich conversation that could have gone on much longer.

Parbery Consulting is committed to supporting the FPO sector and we will continue the series on governance throughout 2021. We know and understand what is important to your organisation and our motivation is to see you succeed in meeting your mission. Check out our dedicated FPO page for more information.


Brendan Egan is a Senior Manager at Parbery and has more than 14 years experience as a senior executive in the For-Purpose sector. 

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash