Mikkel Larsen is a former Governance Manager at UK Sport and was also the Senior Governance Officer at the Sport and Recreation Alliance. Mikkel is also the co-author of Better Boards, Stronger Sport: a Code of Good Sport Governance funded by the European Commission.
Volunteers are the lifeblood any sport, including judo. Clubs rely on incredibly committed individuals who give up a lot of their spare time because of their love for their sport or club. Although it is important to have strong and effective governance, it should not be at the expense of the enjoyment of those that give up their time to run a club.
Publications such as the Voluntary Code of Good Governance, published by the Sport and Recreation Alliance, might seem like overkill but whether you are a multi-national organisation or a small sports club the same underlying principles apply.
Asking questions is an important ingredient of good governance. Board or committee members in a club should always be prepared to answer questions on why they are doing things, and how they could do them differently. Questioning your actions and talking openly about how the club is governed will hopefully embed a culture of transparency, integrity and openness, and good governance. Knowing where to start can be hard, however if the five questions below are answered honestly you’ll be set on a path to having a better governed club:
1. Why does our club exist?
This might sound like a very grandiose question but it’s vital that the board agrees on this. A club always lacks resources and a workforce be it for new equipment, facilities hire or running an extra session each week. By agreeing on what you’re here to achieve a lot of internal conflicts can be avoided. But more importantly you’ll be able to focus your resources and efforts on where it matters the most. Are you here to provide kids with a fun and enjoyable experience doing judo? To win medals at local/regional and national competitions? To produce players for the GB team? Or to be a social hub for the local community? The opportunities are numerous, but you can’t do all of them at once.
2. How do we make decisions?
To answer this question you might need to look at your club’s constitution. It’s extremely important that the committee of a club is aware of how its decisions are made. It is not uncommon to see a chair or secretary or treasurer of a club making decisions, which are later challenged by other committee members. Knowing exactly who can make which decisions can also eliminate potential conflict. To help identify who makes the decisions it might be useful to think about who is responsible for what at your club. Ensuring each individual committee member is aware of his/her responsibilities, which decisions he/she is able to make and which decisions need to be taken back to the committee as a wider group is very important. In some clubs you might even need to take a step back and ask; who are the committee? how do people get elected on to the committee? The committee should also discuss how they ensure that a member of the committee with financial or other conflicts of interest, cannot influence decisions to their personal advantage.
3. How do we protect our money?
The majority of a club’s income will come from subscriptions paid by its members. Protecting them from fraud is therefore of great importance. The committee need to ensure that decisions, which commit the club financially, are made at the appropriate level. The committee also need to ensure that there are no oversights of the resources available to it. This might happen by having quarterly reports from the treasurer. Quarterly reports could also help members of the committee hold the individual responsible for finances to account. This will help to ensure that funds belonging to the club are not being hidden or misused. The committee should design a system which allows the finances to be managed in an efficient way and protects them against fraud.
4. How do we involved members of the club in the decision making process?
As the committee of the club, you need to run the club for the benefits of its members. However, do you always know exactly what they need and want? Ensuring that members have the opportunity to feed into this process is vital. In a perfect world the composition of the committee should reflect the membership but often it doesn’t, especially in sport. For example, if your membership is mainly made up of junior members, how will you as an adult committee member know, how a decision might affect them? Involving members in the decision making process, can also help when recruiting new members to the committee. Many clubs struggle to find new committee members when old ones step down. By involving members in the process early on, you are more likely to recruit them as committee members later on.
5. How do you communicate committee decisions to the membership?
Most conflicts, between the committee of a club and the general membership occur when the membership don’t understand why decisions by the committee are being made. A committee needs to ensure that there is a reasonable level of communication with its members. A committee should recognise that decisions taken will impact on its members and show the openness and transparency needed. Transparency will also help debunking some of the myth and rumour which might appear. This transparency is also likely to encourage a greater level of involvement from the general membership in the club’s activities as well.