Niamh Gallagher, Trustee of Women for Election

CEO, Drinkaware

Understanding the Limitations of a Small Organisation and how Board Effectiveness can Combat this

“Effective team work is even more important given that Directors are voluntary and therefore their time is more limited, everyone has to work together as efficiently and effectively as possible to achieve the desired result.”

Why did you choose to take on a voluntary directorship?

I set up Women for Election, but was no longer in a position to run it in the day-to-day. The obvious transition was to move onto the Board so that I (and my fellow co-founder, Michelle O’Donnell Keating) could continue to play a role in the strategic direction of the organisation.  I can’t imagine not being involved with Women for Election – as co-founder, it is very much part of who I am: I feel passionately that we need more women in politics, and I want to do all I can to ensure that we achieve that.

What have you learnt by being on the board?

A lot about Governance! Before becoming a Director I wasn’t aware of the various legal and compliance elements that come with running a company or non-profit, nor did I fully understand the very central role the Board plays in driving the whole organisation: from a policy and procedure point of view, as well as strategy and budget.

What challenges did you encounter whilst being on a board?

Fundraising is a constant challenge.  Working in small non-profit organisations the Board maintains a role here, and – in the case of Women for Election in the last year – took full responsibility for delivering the funds necessary to run the organisation.  I know people who want to take board positions for leadership and strategy experience, that is of course part of it, but my experience has been grittier – when it comes to the organisation surviving and thriving the board of Women for Election has played a critical, hands-on role.

How did you approach conflict resolution on your board?

We haven’t had a serious conflict on our Board, but – as a political organisation – we have regular issues for discussion where there are a variety of viewpoints.  This is managed by our excellent Chairperson, Michelle O’Donnell Keating, and naturally by our Board culture, which fosters debate and discussion, and always reverts to the question: what is best for the organisation?

How would you describe time management with respects to your day-job and voluntary board position?

This can be challenging! This year has been more hands-on as a Board member at Women for Election as we have had limited staffing.  We are currently hiring a CEO so that will change.  The issues tend to arise when both the board organisation and my day job are busy, which seem to happen at the same time! Needing to be available during the day for Board activities happens now and again, and I do find that hard with my day job, but generally I manage it, particularly as the learning I get from dealing with the situations that arise as a Board member is usually helpful to my day job too.

How important was teamwork and collaboration in relation to board effectiveness?

Teamwork and collaboration are critical when it comes to Board effectiveness – the Board are united around achieving the vision of the organisation, and have to work together to drive and support the team to deliver that vision.  My experience of being on a board has been very much about working with other board members in a collaborative way, developing an idea and then taking responsibility for bits of it to drive its delivery.  Effective team work is even more important given that Directors are voluntary and therefore their time is more limited, everyone has to work together as efficiently and effectively as possible to achieve the desired result.

November 2017