Not For Profit Organisations

Q: What are NFP Boards looking for in an Observer?

A: Boards participate in the Observership Program for a number of reasons and there are many different qualities and experience they may look for in an Observer. Many boards are simply looking for a talented, committed Observer who brings age diversity and a fresh perspective. Some boards have a particular project they want help with and are looking for an Observer with a particular skill set to assist. Others may have a noticeable skill set gap they might like to fill. Other boards may be looking to enhance gender diversity on their board. Some boards may be looking to strengthen succession planning options and are looking for an Observer who may be appropriate to step into the shoes of a departing director.

Q: What are the Responsibilities of a Participating NFP Organisation?

A: The NFP organisation invites its Observer onto the Board for a year and agrees to:

  • Distribute board papers to Observers;
  • Appoint a Board Liaison to serve as the primary point of contact for the Observer and The Observership Program. This liaison will ideally be a senior member of the Board and agrees to induct and introduce the Observer at the first board meeting and to encourage the Observer’s participation and involvement in Board meetings and to facilitate the Observer joining any relevant sub-committee and/or special project;
  • Provide feedback to The Observership Program upon request;
  • Provide The Observership Program with current logos for inclusion on all publicity and marketing platforms; and
  • Inform the Program of any issues in relation to the Observer that may arise over the course of the Program that have not been able to be resolved directly.

Q: What are the benefits to an NFP Board in participating in the Program?

A: The Program provides a range of benefits to NFP organisations, including:

  • Injecting the next generation’s perspective into the boardroom;
  • Filling a particular skill set requirement on your board (e.g. social media, law, finance, digital, communications, marketing business planning etc.) with an emerging leader;
  • Involving your Observer in a strategic project to deliver concrete benefits to the organisation;
  • Participating in developing the next cohort of leaders in the non-for-profit and for-profit sectors;
  • Strengthening a board’s renewal strategy with no ongoing commitment to retain the Observer at the end of the 12 month program; and
  • Invitations to attend the Program launch and closing session events, with opportunities for informal networking and access to high profile guest speakers.

“This is our third year as a participating board and we continue to reap the benefits of being involved. We recognise the importance of selecting an observer with the right experience relevant to our strategy, operations and focus at that time. We involve the observers as much as we can in the organisation, encouraging contribution at each board meeting and through seeking their input in areas where their skills lie.”

David Pumphrey, Director, Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife

"The Benevolent Society is delighted to be participating for the second year in the Board Observership program. Applicants to the program are high calibre and well matched to the organisation, such that it was very difficult to select from those we interviewed. The program delivers great benefit to us as an organisation in identifying candidates who offer great energy, fresh perspectives and a range of expertise to apply to specific projects and our activities generally. In return, The Benevolent Society aims to provide the board observer with a rich and engaging board experience sitting at the table with seasoned directors who have a wide range of experience and expertise and in depth learning about our sector and its challenges. In this way, we are helping to develop board directors of the future."

Lisa Chung, Chair, The Benevolent Society

" I am really impressed with the philosophy of the Observership Program to encourage young professionals to get a deep understanding of governance practices in the not for profit sector. This is an area of real need, and one where they can make a great contribution. What has surprised me though is the quality of the candidates offered to the MSO - highly motivated individuals, each with strong credentials, and importantly, in our case, a passion for music! The Observers receive a comprehensive, structured training program facilitated by the AICD, so they come to the table well prepared to broaden their understanding with practical experience. Our Observer is a young partner in a major law firm, and is already adding value. I encourage all not for profits to seriously consider participating in the program."

Michael Ullmer, Chair, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Q: What is the role of the Observer and NFP Boards in managing the Observership throughout the year?

A: An open relationship between Observer and Board is essential to a successful Observership for both the organisation and the Observer. The Observership Program encourages direct communication between the Board and their Observer at all times and especially to clarify any issues or concerns that may arise. In the unlikely event of an issue arising which can’t be resolved, The Observership Program should be notified so that it can work with both parties to find a mutually satisfactory solution. The Observership Program undertakes a quarterly progress review with all NFPs and Observers to check that the relationship is functioning smoothly and both parties are benefiting from the experience. This takes the form of a scheduled phone call focused on the Observers’ contributions, and the organisations’ experience and provides an opportunity to identify and discuss any issues or concerns.

Q: Is the benefit greater for the Observer or for the NFP?

A: In the most effective Observerships, the benefits, although different for Observers and Organisations, are nevertheless mutual. Please refer to the FAQ outlining benefits for participating NFP organisations. Please refer to "What You Can Expect From the Program" in the "About the Program" section of the website to review the benefits of the Program to Observers.

Q: What is the role of the Board Liaison?

A: Each participating board allocates a Board Liaison person who is responsible for being the point of contact for the Observer. The role of the Board Liaison is to be a point of contact for Observers and to answer any questions about serving as an Observer on the board. The Board Liaison should ensure board meeting details and reading materials are sent to the Observer and that the Observer understands expectations around his/her contribution/participation and the general culture of the board.

Q: What are NFP Boards looking for in an Observer?

A: The key to a successful Observership experience is contribution. Boards participate in the Program to support the development of the next generation of leaders and to gain access to a younger (25-40) and in some cases, more relevant perspective around the board table. Many boards look for specific skills and experience from their Observers, so there are often opportunities to assist with special projects and to sit on subcommittees in addition to attending board meetings.

Q: Is the Board Liaison the same as a Mentor?

A: A Board Liaison is not expected to act as an official mentor. However, offering informal mentoring can add a great deal to the Observers’ experience while on the Program. We recommend that Board Liaisons touch base with Observers prior to and after board meetings in circumstances where additional context to board deliberations may be helpful.

Q: Can my organisation participate in the Program?

A: We are always expanding the reach of the Program and welcome approaches from and introductions to suitable NFPs. Please contact Belinda Da Silva ([email protected]) at The Observership Program if you are interested in participating in the Program.

Program Conclusion

Q: What happens at the end of the 12-month Observership period?

A: Any further relationship between the Observer and the NFP is by mutual agreement. There is no obligation on either party to continue the relationship.