Date posted: 06/12/2021 5 min read

One plus two: On the NFP board learning curve

Craig Galvin CA and the NFP Board Experience Program showed two CAs what it really takes to serve on a board.

In Brief

  • The NFP Board Experience Program allows CAs to observe how a not-for-profit board operates in real life.
  • Mentor Craig Galvin CA says participants also develop important soft skills such as active listening, strategic thinking and influencing others.
  • Mentees Kirsten Archer CA and Abhay Singh CA say they gained insights into how NFP boards make decisions and the importance of a strategic mindset.

As told to Susan Muldowney

Craig Galvin CA
Director, Yarranlea Ltd, Brisbane

Yarranlea Primary School dates back about 130 years. It started as a school in the Darling Downs but was moved to Griffith University [in Brisbane’s Mount Gravatt] in the 1970s as a museum display school. A group of people reopened it as an independent school in 2014. I joined the board shortly after.

There’s been a genuine joy in seeing both Kirsten and Abhay develop more than the technical skills of board membership during the NFP Board Experience Program. This experience is a fantastic entree into a real operating board. They get to see it, warts and all.

They’ve been attending board meetings as observers for the first half of the program and the next part will focus on developing the important soft skills for board membership. These include active listening, strategic thought and how to influence others. I guess they’re just basic life skills in an applied setting.

I think it’s important to remember there are two sides of a boardroom table. There are the directors and the executives that report to the board, and both are equally valuable. In my career,

I’ve been on both sides of that table. The first time I had a dealing with a board, I had to learn on the run, and that’s hard when you’re working a full day. Having a program like this is a really good idea.

I signed up as a mentor to the Not-for-profit Board Experience Program because I wanted to give back. When I was a young chartered accountant, a lot of people helped me out. I’ve reached a point where I’m happy with the goals I’ve achieved and my family has grown up, so I have time to give back.

Mentor Craig Galvin CA guided Brisbane-based Kirsten Archer CA and Abhay Singh CA on how a real not-for-profit board operates.Picture: Mentor Craig Galvin CA guided Brisbane-based Kirsten Archer CA and Abhay Singh CA on how a real not-for-profit board operates. Photographed on the City Reach boardwalk. Image credit: Richard Whitfield.

 

Kirsten Archer CA
Senior tax manager, Deloitte, Brisbane

I wanted to seek out a new learning opportunity but it was difficult to find a course in the marketplace that was not all consuming. The NFP Board Experience Program seemed like the perfect balance, and a valuable way to broaden my skills.

Abhay and I kept Craig quite busy with our questions, but he was very generous with his time and knowledge. He also has a fantastic commercial mindset, which was a great thing to observe in action at a board level.

The Program included five evening workshops, as well as attending monthly board meetings after work, which ran for about three hours.

Abhay and I would catch up with Craig beforehand to discuss the previous meeting, and the direction of the board and its decision-making.

It was valuable to gain an understanding of the culture of the board and how some decisions can take a long time to be arrived at. It became very apparent that being a board member requires a degree of patience and an ability to sit back and consider all angles.

The depth of experience of all the board members was inspiring. It was a great opportunity to learn from people with very different skill sets to my own, particularly in the education sector.

From observing the meetings and speaking with Craig, I can see that a strategic mindset is one of the most important skills for a not-for-profit board member. I think CAs already have that, but this program brought home how important it is to keep developing it.

I am committed to joining a not-forprofit board or committee in the future and the program has been an invaluable opportunity in better understanding what that journey will look like.

Abhay Singh CA
External auditor, PwC, Brisbane

A lot of people in my role go on to become CFOs or partners and to join boards. I’ve asked myself if this is a direction I’d like to follow, so experiencing how a board works first-hand was a good starting point.

I’ve attended one board meeting at Yarranlea in person and the rest virtually, as the school is quite a distance from my home.

Everyone looks to Craig during the meetings when they need an opinion. Although he’s a finance specialist, they look for his input in other operational areas. That speaks to the value people place on finance experience.

It’s interesting to see how a board operates. They might dedicate a whole meeting to discussing the development of policies and then the members would spend a weekend working on them.

It might sound boring, but it’s just one of the important administrative tasks that they have to do.

Some of the meetings would start at 6pm and finish after 9pm. You really need to be able to offer that time before you jump into a board role. You can’t just turn up; people expect you to contribute.

My current job is quite demanding so I don’t think I could commit the time to a board role right now. But Craig reminded me that I have a long career ahead of me and maybe I should seek out a smaller role in a not-for-profit to gain more experience until I have the time to explore board opportunities. I think that’s good advice.

Read more:

Not-for-profit Board Experience Program

The Not-for-profit Board Experience Program is for early and mid-career CAs who want to gain first-hand experience on a not-for-profit board as an observer. CA ANZ would also like to hear from NFP board members keen to be mentors.

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