Good and Bad Delegation

Experienced non-profit directors and managers understand that the key to effective volunteer engagement is relationship management. Having best practice policies and procedures, including a volunteer policy framework and instruments of delegation, may be necessary, but these measures are not sufficient to successfully engage your volunteer ‘workforce’.

Engagement or buck-passing?

Old school ‘carrot and stick’ approaches to the management of volunteers simply will not work, as these methods discourage volunteer participation and engagement. They devalue the intangible outcomes that volunteers are seeking from their donation of time and energy to your organisation’s cause.

Granting authority without providing appropriate guidance and support could be considered a form of ‘buck passing’, especially if the delegate is later blamed for lack of success. The header image summarises this as the choice between assigning or avoiding (perhaps even abdicating) responsibility, and seeks to remind directors that delegation is not a ‘set and forget’ activity.

Numerous volunteer guides urge that the focus of volunteer management should be helping people ‘realise their potential’ in ways that respond to personal motivations as well as organisational objectives.

Delegation according to law

Similar provisions regarding the directors’ power to delegate are contained in both the Corporations Act (Commonwealth) and state legislation governing incorporated associations. Section 198D of the Corporations Act 2001 appears in the box below.

Of particular note is the requirement that the delegation is recorded in the minutes. Even if you don’t create a separate ‘instrument of delegation’, the relevant minute could be considered an ‘instrument’ in its own right.

Delegation steps

The steps involved in delegating a role or tasks to non-profit volunteers are not dissimilar to those recommended for use by managers delegating to staff and contractors. These are summarised in the 8-step chart below and include some modifications of the approach recommended in the source (a Program Manager’s Toolkit) to reflect the Board’s governance perspective.

Delegation instruments

My previous post drew attention to the various forms of delegation, from formal (documented) to informal (verbal request). In that post, I promised to offer material on ‘instruments of delegation’ in the future, so this post delivers on that promise – albeit briefly. (See also resource links in the other related posts listed below.)

An ‘instrument of delegation’ is any formalised mechanism used to grant authority, within limits or boundaries, to a person or group to act on behalf of a governing body or manager. As illustrated below, delegation instruments usually formalise the purpose, objectives, authorities granted, boundary limitations on those authorities, timeframes, resources and support, reporting, monitoring, and evaluation arrangements.

Depending on whether the delegation involves the CEO, an individual volunteer, or a Board committee, different delegation instruments will be used. Likewise different instruments are likely to be involved according to the nature of the delegation being granted (e.g. financial authority as distinct from spokesperson roles, etc.).

Policy Governance Model

From a governance perspective, such instruments are essential controls in your organisation’s risk management system, placing limits or boundaries on the delegated authority, and setting clear expectations about:

  • outcomes sought (ends);
  • acceptable measures able to be used for the achievement of those outcomes (means);
  • boundaries within which the authority may be exercised (limits); and
  • accountability and reporting obligations (oversight)

Ends, means, and limits are all key elements of the well-known Carver Policy Governance model. While this model has been criticised by some in the non-profit sector for being insensitive to their dependence on volunteers and using something of a ‘managerialist’ approach, it nonetheless offers a valuable starting point for reflection on how delegated authority is to be governed.

Delegation Framework

If your organisation operates on a larger scale, you may find it helpful to develop a Delegation Framework, similar to the one illustrated below. Depending on the delegate’s role, they would not be allocated authorities and responsibilities across all areas of course.

See also:

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