The role of the Citizen Advocacy Board is crucial to the Programmes success. It provides the management, accountability to funders and the community, ensures its staff are well trained and focussed on the work to be done, and carries the responsibility for ensuring the Programme and office continue to function well and remain stable over time.
There is an abundance of information available regarding Management Committees/Boards for non-profit organisations but very little that has been written specifically for Citizen Advocacy. While we can draw information from the current literature available there are some aspects of managing a Citizen Advocacy Programme that differ.
Citizen Advocacy Board members are personally involved - they know the people supported by the Programme, devote much personal time and effort to their role and engage in often difficult and value-laden discussions leading to decisions in the best interest of the overall Programme. At the same time they are employers and have all the legal and financial responsibilities associated with the running of any organisation. All this on a voluntary basis!
Board members are the trustees of a Citizen Advocacy Programme and therefore have what is known in legal terms as a fiduciary relationship with the incorporated organisation - the Citizen Advocacy Programme. This means that each Board member is under an obligation to exercise their powers in the best interest of the Programme and to act in good faith.
Board members are also responsible for the public confidence in and the security of the Citizen Advocacy Programme. How well a Citizen Advocacy Programme operates and serves its local community is the ultimate responsibility and obligation of the Board. In other words - the buck stops here!
In order for a Citizen Advocacy Programme to be well placed and well regarded in the local community the Board will need a representative, balanced membership. The ideal number for a Board is 12 to 15 people who have a variety of skills, interests and roles - people who are local leaders in the community, advocates, advocate-associates, proteges, parents and family members who are leaders amongst parent groups, people with no service connections and people, committed to the leadership and challenge of Citizen Advocacy, who work in the human service system.
Board membership should also reflect the population of the community the Programme serves; this includes people of different ages, gender and cultural backgrounds. Often the only initial interest Board members may have in common is their shared belief in Citizen Advocacy and the rights to a decent life with dignity for all people.
Board members provide the broad public face of Citizen Advocacy by their reputation, representation and promotion of the Programmes work. Together with the Coordinator they develop policy, set priorities and written plans about who and how many people (as proteges and advocates) to recruit to meet a wide range of protege needs which will need a wide diversity of advocacy roles.
The importance of the Board cannot be underestimated as it provides the ongoing stability, and members often hold the history of the Programme. As paid staff come and go the Board provides the continuity which enables the Programme to maintain adherence to the Citizen Advocacy principles - advocate independence, advocate loyalty to proteges, Programme independence, clarity of staff function, balanced orientation to protege needs and positive interpretations of people with intellectual disability. The Board provides the accountability for the staff for their work.
Board members must remember their prime accountability and loyalty is to the people who depend on the Citizen Advocacy Programme.
Usual financial, management responsibility and accountability as for any community organisation
Oversight and ownership of Programme as a whole
Honouring contractual obligations
Making policy and procedural decisions and ensuring they are followed
Programme involvement with Citizen Advocacy NSW Association
Oversighting the seven key office activities
Taking on activities which are not key activities
Recruiting and orientation of Board members
Assisting in recruiting proteges and advocates
Acting on Committees/Task forces
- assist Coordinator with key office activities
- involvement in advocacy analysis of proteges
- assist in the development of advocate profiles and orientation
- involvement in staff/Board training
Attending (some) learning events
Involvement in Programme planning, reviews and evaluation
Assisting in maintaining clarity/principles of Citizen Advocacy
Providing protection to Programme
- eternal vigilance against seduction
Ensuring focus of Programme remains on proteges and their advocacy relationships
- making these happen, happen well and be long lasting
Legal - to meet the requirements of a range of federal, state and local government laws and regulations including incorporation, constitution, insurance (workers compensation, public liability etc.), award payments, tax exemption and occupational health and safety requirements.
Financial - to ensure adequate funds for the operation of the Programme are used only for the Citizen Advocacy work, that the Programme works within the limits of these funds, for which records are kept and funds accounted. The Board sets and monitors the budget, reports to the funders as required and ensures that there is an annual audit. In order to safeguard the long term viability of the Programme the Board may develop a long term financial plan (over the next 5yrs -10yrs) and should explore the possibility of diverse funding and/or raising money.
Personnel - todesign positions, developing position descriptions, staff recruitment, training, support and supervision, staff reporting, staff reviews, discipline and dismissal. While there are clear and distinct roles for Citizen Advocacy Boards and staff the work is enhanced if a mutual trust and respect grows between the staff and Board members.
Premises and equipment - ensure that the office, facilities and physical resources are provided and maintained properly and safely. This includes meeting the conditions of the lease agreement.
Oversight of the Programme as a whole - including the seven key office activities, assisting in the recruitment of proteges and citizen advocates, recruiting new Board members and work on Committees/Task-forces including contribution to the NSW Association.
Planning and policy - involvement in policy development, developing annual protege and advocate recruitment plans, based on a relationship review, and meeting the policy requirements of funders.
Promotion and marketing - raising awareness of the Programmes work and defining the Programmes identity in the local community. The credibility of the Programme will depend on how well this is done.
Reporting and accountability - inform and contact proteges, advocates, funders, policy makers and the wider community through the Annual Report, reports and the self assessment to government, arranging internal reviews and organising regular CAPE evaluations.
Overall the Board ensures that the focus of the Programme remains on proteges and their advocacy relationships - making these happen, happen well and be long lasting.
In order to carry out the responsibilities required there are a number of activities Board members may consider, such as:
be prepared to meet and develop relationships with people with intellectual disability; attend Board meetings regularly and apologise in advance if unable to attend;
stay well informed about the Programmes work by reading minutes, briefing materials, reports and financial reports and understand the Constitution;
agree on and develop a commitment to the Citizen Advocacy principles and the value of Citizen Advocacy, and make appropriate decisions;
work on committees as needed and according to your skills and interests;
develop policies and plans/yearly objectives;
promote Citizen Advocacy to the larger community - tell family, friends, work colleagues, through community contacts, and act as a spokesperson/ambassador for the Programme;
be willing to share your skills, contacts, resources and expertise;
attend fundraising events, retreats, social events;
help the staff by identifying people who may benefit from the support of a citizen advocate and identify people who may be willing to become citizen advocates;
support each other on the Board;
encourage and support staff members in their work;
be willing to take responsibility for the employment of suitable staff, expect them to produce good results, enquire into reasons if not and assist improvements to happen;
be willing to make a financial or in-kind contribution as is possible;
when Board consensus is reached on a policy or activity be openly supportive even if you disagreed during the approval process. If you cannot support Board actions and decisions once approved, resign.
Being an active Board member requires a deep understanding of the work of Citizen Advocacy and requires much personal time and effort. In order to effectively fulfil the Board Member role a Board member needs to use any or all of a number of learning opportunities, such as:
spend time talking with other Board members and staff;
shadow an experienced Coordinator as he/she does the work;
attend formal presentations on Citizen Advocacy, workshops and other training events;
take up an advocacy role eg. citizen advocate (long-term, short-term or crisis), advocate associate;
read CAPE reports (especially your Programmes most recent);
attend relevant events eg. SRV, PASSING;
participate as a member of a CAPE team;
assist the Coordinator to identify people willing to become citizen advocates and people in need of advocacy;
meet with citizen advocates and proteges to hear their stories;
read material eg. stories of advocate action, newsletters, Citizen Advocacy Forum, books, policies, funding contracts etc;
attend Citizen Advocacy NSW Association seminars, workshops and other events;
meet with Board members and staff from other Programmes;
attend social events, support events for advocates;
attend Board retreats and planning meetings;
represent your Programme as a delegate to the Citizen Advocacy NSW Association;
create some fun for the Board members!
To ensure that the Citizen Advocacy Programme and its work continues it is vital that Board members seek out people who will make a sincere and active commitment to Citizen Advocacy. Building Board membership slowly and thoughtfully will ensure that quality not quantity drives the recruitment of new members. The Board will need to have access to people with various technical skills such as, legal, fiscal, management, personnel and promotion.
In order to represent and promote the Citizen Advocacy Programme to the community the majority of Board members will have an identity as local community people rather than as human service workers; will be people who have, or want to develop, an understanding of the common life experience of people with intellectual disability and be people involved as family members, people with intellectual disability; people who are advocates and advocate- associates.
Some ways to recruit new Board members are to identify the skills and experience already represented on the Board then:
to identify additional skills and experience required;
to identify people in your community and ask personally;
for the staff to identify possible new members as they go about their work but current Board members will usually do the asking;
for prospective Board members to meet and spend time with at least two current Board members to discuss Citizen Advocacy;
to invite prospective new Board members to share meals, coffee etc. to gain an idea of what they might offer the Board;
to ask them to meet and spend time with the Coordinator to discuss their work;
to invite prospective new Board members to attend several Board meetings;
to arrange for them to meet advocates and proteges supported by the Programme;
for new members to be well on the way to understanding and supporting the Citizen Advocacy principles before formally joining the Board.