Better Boards Celebrates Commitment to Non-profit Governance


It is not very often that we blow our own horn, but in this case we feel there is a worthy reason.

A special occasion worth noting
Better Boards marks a very special occasion in July this year when the Better Boards Conference will be convened for the 10th time. That’s ten momentous efforts by the organisers to curate a program worthy of championing the issue of the importance of good governance in Australasia’s non-profit organisations and strengthening the sector by helping to build better boards.

Influencing a large, varied and important part of Australasia
Over the last 15 years, the Better Boards Conference has played a pivotal role in improving the governance awareness and savvy of leaders across a huge range of non-profit organisations. Attendees have represented schools, religious organisations, health, disability, community and aged care, housing, transport, environmental, Maori and Aboriginal organisations, sporting groups, industry associations and peak bodies and more. The depth and breadth of organisations represented by attendees is impressive and reflects the colourful variety of causes, purposes and needs that the non-profit sector serves throughout Australasia.

United by one important thing
One of the most vital components uniting each and every one of these organisations is the need for quality governance and an active leadership team that not only understands the environment they are operating within but are also equipped with the knowledge and skills to ensure their organisation’s survival.

Early days
The very first Building Better Boards Conference was convened in Sydney in 2001 by Maureen Cleary from Governance and Management. After running the conference twice, the baton was passed to Sallie Saunders and Mez Egg from Building Better Boards who curated the event in Sydney in 2006 and 2008.

A changing sector, and a changing conference team
In 2009 Michael Goldsworthy from Australian Strategic Services stepped in to support the conference, and sensing a change in the non-profit environment, pulled together a young team headed by Raphael Goldsworthy to reinvigorate the Better Boards Conference in 2010. This new team became Better Boards Australasia and convened the conference in Melbourne in 2012, moving the event from city to city each year since then, putting enormous passion and energy into the production of a quality event with a cutting edge program and content for leaders in the non-profit sector.

Highlights from the journey
The non-profit sector has experienced a huge amount of change over the last 15 years and the Better Boards Conference has been there to support the knowledge gain and the lift in the quality of governance of organisations during this period of transition.

Along the way delegates heard Robert Fitzgerald speak on the recently released Productivity Report and were entertained by a deliciously humorous yet serious legal panel in 2010. The same year a separate day specifically for CEOs was added to the conference program, featuring roundtable discussions to facilitate networking. Professor Myles Mcgregor-Lowndes, an early and recurrent speaker at the conference, spoke in 2010 on the tools he was then developing for board assessments and evaluations.

Alex Malley invigorated CEOs during his breakfast address with an engaging and informative presentation about the value of courage in leadership on CEO’s Day in 2012, the year the conference was held in Victoria for the first time at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. A small trade presence was introduced to assist suppliers and decision-makers to meet and discuss solutions. The newly formed Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission was represented by David Locke and Murray Baird who discussed and explained new regulations relating to the sector. Gerard Menses challenged leaders of non-profit organisations to sharpen up while Claire Braund issued a challenge to boards on gender diversification. Tim Costello addressed the audience in a time of need and signed books after delivering the final session for 2012.

The following year Better Boards trialed new digital technology to enable more audience questions to be asked and answered. Dr Nina Terry captured imaginations as she introduced the concept of Design Thinking as a means to drive innovation. Guests at the Gala Dinner kept an eye on the circling sharks and stingrays at the Melbourne Aquarium and Better Boards produced its first conference magazine as a value-add that included articles from the speakers as an additional avenue to showcase their knowledge.

Rachel Botsman wowed a packed hall with her message: “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle… You can’t reverse the change. Technology is leading change.” as she spoke on digital disruption in 2014, when the conference convened in Adelaide, South Australia for the first time. And David Cooke from Konica Minolta Australia motivated CEOs with his thoughts on a new paradigm in corporate partnerships; “As a not-for-profit sector you have an enormous amount and power and influence… What [NFPs] have, which is goodwill and loyalty, is rare and valuable. You need to play from that strength.” Brian Herd delivered perhaps the most entertaining performance seen on stage at the Better Boards conference while asking the audience to think more about membership. The Better Boards team also expanded the program at the 2014 conference to include the Board Member Innovation Tour where delegates visited the RFDS Central Operations, Leukaemia Foundation, Phoenix Society, the Adelaide Festival Centre and enjoyed lunch at the National Wine Centre.

The Better Boards Conference continued to serve up plentiful lunches to delegates in 2015 when the event convened in Brisbane for its Queensland debut, Westpac Social Sector Banking came on board in support of the event as the Premier Partner. QUT’s Australian Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies also attended as the Academic partner with Gavin Nicholson leading a panel in a discussion on director decision-making. CEOs were inspired by Ronni Kahn and her contagious motivation while Aaron Hurst struck a chord with his powerful crusade for purpose. Elizabeth Jameson took the conference theme by the horns with a well thought out presentation that proposed that it could be time to consider a new model of governance. The 2015 Board Member Innovation Tour visited Common Ground Queensland, LifeTec, Surf Life Saving Queensland and Suncorp Stadium – home of Brisbane Broncos, while the Better Boards team launched Sprout Summit, run concurrently on CEO’s Day and featuring Tom Dawkins, Rhys Williams and Stephanie Lorenzo amongst the line-up of speakers. Those starting new organisations were given the opportunity to connect with seasoned CEOs of existing non-profit organisations in this serendipitous environment.

We must be doing something right
Many of the delegates who have attended over the years will remember their own personal highlights, and as an organiser of the event it is heartening to read the incredible amount of positive feedback that is received every year.

Thank you to all the past speakers for joining our crusade to stay abreast of the forces impacting the non-profit sector, and sharing the skills and knowledge required by leaders to operate successfully in the changing climate of the non-profit world. As a team, the Better Boards Conference organisers are committed to recognising the major trends impacting leaders and their organisations and curating timely content. Ultimately, this journey will continue to strengthen the impact of the non-profit sector through a greater awareness and implementation of governance practices.

Join us in Melbourne this year as we celebrate the journey toward raising governance awareness and stronger leadership in the non-profit sector, and we continue to build better boards.

Sheena McKinnon About Sheena McKinnon

Sheena is the marketing and senior project manager at Better Boards Australasia. With a background in Olympic-level competitive sports, Sheena has an appreciation of the focus and strength of will necessary for great leadership and an interest in inspiring others to develop their own leadership skills. Sheena is also an international award-winning photographer and a past committee member of Windsurfing Victoria.

Speak Your Mind