Old-fashioned practices that not-for-profits should bin

Bin paperwork i Stock 154934124

How often do you hear the phrase “It’s the way we’ve always done things here” at your organisation?

Procedures, routines and beliefs that have been worn smooth by the passage of time can be great for efficiency, but what if the world has moved on and your organisation hasn’t?

Swimming Australia is the latest in a long list of not-for-profits that have been caught out by failing to ask themselves a simple question: Are we out of touch with community standards?

A recent independent inquiry into Swimming Australia’s treatment of women and girls has lashed the organisation’s outdated attitudes, urging the organisation to scrap skin-fold tests, ban the term “physique” and introduce quotas to encourage more female coaches.

The report took aim at many outdated practices by the not-for-profit, which it found had affected athletes’ experiences and wellbeing “at all levels of the sport”.

Madeline Groves
Madeline Groves competing in the 200m butterfly in 2016. Picture: JD Lasica, licence Creative Commons 2.0

The report was commissioned in response to comments on social media by swimmer Madeline Groves, who withdrew from Tokyo Olympic trials in protest at “misogynistic perverts and their bootlickers” and their exploitation of young women and girls in the sport.

To its credit, Swimming Australia welcomed the report, apologised “unreservedly” to those affected and promised to “address” the 46 recommendations, although it did not release the full report and findings.

Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty said Swimming Australia’s experience represented a crucial governance issue for all not-for-profits.

“How many other community groups are doing things just because they have always done it that way? The world has moved on but many of the sector’s practices have not.”

Comment: Turning a blind eye ends up costing us all

Is your organisation out of touch?

Head in the sand
Is your organisation keeping pace with the modern world?

Here’s a list of outdated practices you could use as a discussion starter at your next board meeting or policy subcommittee meeting. Which of these are prevalent in your organisation?

  • Holding job interviews with all-male interview panels
  • Hosting or attending conferences with all-male speakers or all-male panel discussions
  • Failing to involve people in decisions that affect them, whether it’s Indigenous people, people with disabilities, women, young people, elderly people…
  • Allowing too few people in your organisation to have too much power, whether it’s your founder, your CEO or an intransigent board
  • Pre-signing blank cheques
  • Allowing children to be left with only one other person, especially if you haven’t adopted a child safety policy
  • Going to great lengths to appease donors and other stakeholders who are harping on about overheads, instead of explaining why running an organisation doesn’t come free
  • Not paying your interns for the work they do
  • Asking people to perform or speak at your events “for the exposure”, instead of paying them
  • Advertising jobs without disclosing salaries
  • Hiring people from outside the not-for-profit sector in the belief that they know the business better
  • A dress code that calls for a suit and tie in the office, or anywhere really
  • Not allowing flexible work practices, such as working from home
  • Addressing your letters to the editor with “Dear Sir”
  • Failing to properly protect your organisation and your clients from threats such as child abuse, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, predators, fraudsters and hackers
  • Failing to adopt a whistleblower policy to protect those who speak up about those threats
  • Failing to adopt other basic policies to help keep your organisation safe and instead assuming that everyone in the organisation will always behave in its best interests
  • Ignoring the tech revolution because it’s too hard
  • Not measuring the outcomes of your organisation’s activities
  • Assuming your organisation is “untouchable” because its stated aims are worthy
  • Failing to apologise properly when you realise your “untouchable” not-for-profit has really stuffed things up
  • Failing to take action to regularly renew your board and to ensure it reflects the diversity of the community it serves.

Revitalise your organisation: top five resources

Communities in Control
Discover new ways of staying in touch with your community at the Communities in Control held in Melbourne and online each year.

Here are five things you can do or read this year to help revitalise your community group.

  1. Subscribe to Our Community Matters.
    If you’re reading this, you probably already subscribe to the sector’s best monthly newsletter, packed with capacity-building resources. Otherwise, you can subscribe here (free).
  2. Come to Communities in Control.
    Each year, a stellar list of speakers and hundreds of delegates come together in person or online to listen, debate, network, exchange tips and strategies, and recharge at Our Community’s annual conference for the not-for-profit sector. If you want to take the pulse of the sector, and quickly understand where other groups are up to in relation to the practices outlined above, there’s no better way than to attend this conference.
  3. Join ICDA.
    The Institute of Community Directors Australia is the best-practice governance network for members of Australian not-for-profit and government boards and committees, and the senior staff who work alongside them – providing ideas and advice for community leaders. ICDA membership costs just $65 per year, and opens up access to webinars, training, networking and other resources. Join here.
  4. Read this book.
    We’re talking about Revitalise Your Community Board: A makeover for community groups that want to lift their game. Even a board that has worked well in the past can become run-down or lose its focus. This book can help – buy it here.
  5. And this book too.
    A community group lives or dies by its staffing, including its volunteers. It’s vital to get the right people, and one book that can help is Recruiting for Your Not-for-profit: Good people for good jobs. Buy it here.

- By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community

Your say: Pulse Poll

Do you know of a not-for-profit that’s out of touch? Is your own organisation working in ways that should go the way of the dodo? Do you know about a great resource you’d recommend to organisations that are struggling with this stuff? We’d love to hear about it in our Pulse Pull survey. We’ll share the results (anonymously, of course) in our newsletter Our Community Matters.

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