Improving board governance performance

Mr. Donald McInnes – Chair of Prostate Cancer and Executive Vice Chairman of Alterra Power Corp., a British Columbia-based renewable power development company on improving board governance performance.An interview with Mr. Donald McInnes – Chair of Prostate Cancer and Executive Vice Chairman of Alterra Power Corp., a British Columbia-based renewable power development company on improving board governance performance.

Improving board governance performance


Mr. Donald McInnes says the biggest challenge, or perhaps the biggest role, is assembling a Board of Directors, who can not only fulfill the governance role, but, more importantly, can help the charity be successful. To accomplish this, you need to build a Board of people who are willing to speak with their wallet and their Rolodex to help the organization reach its maximum potential. And that’s not just on the fundraising side but also with the effectiveness of program rollouts and similar endeavours.


What does it take to improve the performance of boards? Arcus Consulting Group has launched a major initiative to explore board performance as a key element of organizational and business unit strategy.  In a survey of 145 chairs of boards and CEOs, a majority say directors of boards provide the leadership and accountability that determine the success of an organization. How can a board improve its performance? Respondents agree that the application of good governance can radically improve organizational and CEO performance. They say that effectiveness has to do with impact – and yet many boards lack the knowledge and tools to deploy effective processes.


Arcus’s work with over 200 boards can help Board Chairs and CEOs improve the performance of their Boards. See our insights on Board Performance Evaluations and Evaluating Success & Governance Models.


Chairs of high performance boards state that five key questions need to be addressed by boards to improve their performance:


  1. Is the board constitution aligned with requirements of the organization? How does the board select directors to meet the required mix of expertise?
  2. Does the board have a process to assess the effectiveness of individual directors? Do directors have a good understanding of their roles and responsibilities? Is the orientation for new directors adequate?
  3. How does the board manage continuing development of directors? Do directors have the option to access external coaching and education programs?
  4. Does the entire board meet at least once a year to review performance and strategic issues?
  5. Does the board recognize and apply best practices in governance processes?


As Arcus research indicates, doing so means that you need to be surrounded by highly talented people. It also means finding a way to transmit your passion to them, so they will buy into your vision of the future, perform at the highest possible levels, and come up with innovative solutions to the challenges of achieving the vision. No surprise, then, that the topic of innovation has been gaining ground as CEOs seek to incorporate concepts like a “culture of innovation” into their assessments of a company’s long-term value. These directors also report using some best practices (such as resource allocation) that all respondents agree would most improve board performance.


Board performance management and capacity improvement session:

Contact Arcus for a complimentary best practice session on performance management and capacity improvement at your next board meeting. Arcus is a one-stop consulting service for capacity building, governance and strategy planning.


Donor engagement analysis, based on Arcus Fundraising Donor Clusters.
Donor Engagement Analysis



Our Philanthropy Practice works with foundations and non-profits to address a range of social issues facing the world today. Learn more about our strategy tools and services, for the non-profit sector, including governance, fundraising, strategy planning and performance improvement. Read a sample of a donor engagement analysis, based on Arcus Fundraising Donor Clusters.


Interview with Mr. Donald McInnes


Mr. Donald McInnes is the Executive Vice Chairman of Alterra Power Corp., a British Columbia-based renewable power development company with a broad portfolio of clean energy projects. Donald currently serves as Chairman of the Clean Energy Association of British Columbia and is a director of Prostate Cancer Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award-British Columbia and Yukon Division and is a Governor of the British Columbia Business Council. He was a participant in the inaugural year (2010) of the SFU Leadership Exchange Program for the Industry Council for Aboriginal Business and was bestowed a Doctor of Technology honoris causa from the BC Institute of Technology in 2009. As well, he was a finalist for the 2008 and a recipient of the 2011 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Pacific Division Cleantech category. McInnes is a frequent public speaker and contributor to the debate on public policy and the integration and value of clean power.


Arcus: Let’s start our discussion with innovation in the role of the chair of a charitable or not-for-profit organization. What would you say are the unique challenges in such a position?


Mr. McInnes: As the chair of a not-for-profit organization, such as in my role as the Prostate Cancer Canada Chairman, we have primarily a governance role. Certainly a high priority lies in making sure the organization is doing what it’s supposed to in terms of deploying capital.We have to make sure it’s being invested wisely. The biggest challenge, or perhaps the biggest role, in the not-for-profit world is assembling a Board of Directors, who can not only fulfill the governance role, but, more importantly, can help the charity be successful. To accomplish this, you need to build a Board of people who are willing to speak with their wallet and their Rolodex to help the organization reach its maximum potential. And that’s not just on the fundraising side but also with the effectiveness of program rollouts and similar endeavours.


Arcus: Building on that last point., obviously, there’s time, treasure and talent as a consideration on most Boards. That’s where Directors can offer value to an organization.Do you see a significant shift towards treasure – the capacity to give – on not-for-profit boards or do you think it is an equal balance between the three: talent and treasure and time?


Mr. McInnes: Yes, I think there is a balance to be had, but more and more, as fundraising becomes more sophisticated, the ability to give or to inspire others to give is important. There are a limited number of organizations that have successfully used technology to become successful at fundraising. The most successful one that comes to mind is the Movember campaign. Movember is now the single largest donor to Prostate Cancer Canada.


The Movember Foundation encourages men around the world to grow a mustache in the month of November and simultaneously raise funds through online sponsorship. That money is then distributed by the Movember Foundation. Individuals around the world start the month clean shaven and ask their friends, family and social media networks to sponsor them online. Movember really was the pioneer in this field but now you see people are using technology to raise money for just about anything at all. While technology is an emerging area, not-for-profit organizations still rely on their board members to help drive both awareness an fundraising. If you look at, I think it’s, it’s Sunnybrook Hospital, most of their board members are told that there are mandatory“give or get” levels.


Arcus: Yes, that is common. For example, with an arts charity, board members might be asked to each raise $5,000 through their own donations (“give”) or by asking their personal network to donate (“get”) or a combination of the two.Would you say this is the common practice?


Mr. McInnes: We haven’t established that at Prostate Cancer Canada, but we’re probably slowly moving in that direction. You want people to be fully invested in what the organization is doing and the best way to show that you’re fully invested is to either give or to go out and get the dollars. This is happening more and more. For Prostate Cancer Canada, we will be celebrating our 20th Anniversary this year, our fiscal year starting April 1st, 2014. Even with 20 years of operations, though, we’re still in many ways a very nascent organization. That’s probably at least in part due to the fact that it is a charity specifically related to men’s health. Men don’t talk about their health. Add to that that prostate is, well, people used to generally think of prostate as being synonymous with erectile dysfunction and incontinence issues. That is likely a result of the way prostatectomies were performed 15, 20 years ago.


However, there’s been a huge evolution in the way the surgery is performed today and surgeons today are far more concerned about post procedural health, wellness and quality of life. We at Prostate Cancer Canada are doing a lot of work on funding a variety of studies in this area . We want to see what we can do to improve wellness and quality of life for those that do go through the radical prostatectomy. Generally speaking, outside of the Movember monies, we’re raisingsix to eight million dollars a year. It is a lot, but consider the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, they raise somewhere in the order of 54, 55 million a year. Their five year total, is something like 263 million. Our five year total, without including Movember, is about 35 million.


Arcus: And prostate cancer is relevant to half the population of Canada.


Mr. McInnes: Well, even of more interest is the fact that one in seven men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime. One in nine women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. The incidence of the disease is higher and we’re getting far less attention.That’s why my goal, as Chair, is to build our Board with a group of people who are going to be passionate about the cause, who can be very effective at networking, who can help us find corporate partners and other donors who are interested in supporting our cause. That, I think is, the biggest thing I can do.


Of course, there’s the governance role, but it’s a given that you’re going to run the organization properly. Yes, I think my biggest role is in supporting our management team by finding and recruiting the best possible Board of Directors that can help the organization achieve its overall mission, and it’s very competitive to find those candidates. Given the numbers I’ve given you, it’s only up from here for our organization. I think things are going to be quite transformative for us over the next year, our 20th Anniversary year.


Arcus: Has the Movember Campaign impacted high net worth donors? Have donationsincreased from the donor segment?Has awareness gone up, and by how much?


Mr. McInnes: Well, I think awareness is certainly up. If you look at the Movember Campaign, I think it was around 270,000 Canadians who participated in the most recent campaign. And, you know, they raised 42 million dollars, approximately, in the last two years. It’s been tremendously successful, but the average gift size – I can’t remember the math off by heart. A few people raise significant funds, 30 to 40 thousand, but the average donor raises 155 dollars.


Arcus: So, it goes back to the whole crowd sourcing concept, with numerous smaller donations.


Mr. McInnes: Yes. So, it’s been a fantastic way to get a lot of people participating, and, I don’t know how many people have given. There’s probably well over a million people in the country participating now in Movember, either, by growing a mustache or donating money. So that’s a huge amount of penetration in our market.


Arcus: Is the male/female ratio of donations balanced. Do you have any numbers on how the donors break down?


Mr. McInnes: No, and I don’t know if Movember would know either, because I don’t think they track the demographics.


Arcus: It would be fascinating to understand the perception of wives, mothers and sisters about this cause, because it impacts loved ones, in some ways, just like other cancers do.


Mr. McInnes: Yes and that’s one of the things we’re trying to do, to engage women in the conversation, because women are great at telling their husbands, their brothers, their sons, their fathers, “You have to go and get checked. You have to have a dialogue with your doctor. And so Movember’s been very helpful to us in elevating the issue of prostate cancer, which allows us now to have a better dialogue about the disease, about who’s at risk, and who isn’t. For example, my dad and uncle both have had a prostatectomy, so my odds are not one in seven. They’re probably more like one in three.


Our general statement is, know your number. We encourage all males to get a PSA test after age 40. It’s not a fail proof test, but it’s a test and the best test that we have today. That gives you a baseline of information. Then as you get older, it makes sense to go and get tested again, and the key is to look for changes in your prostate number. The change is what tells you that there’s something going on in the gland and what your risk might be.With younger men, when it is caught late, it is usually after the tumor has metastasized. At that point, you’re in trouble. So, we’re encouraging people to talk to their doctor about their risk, to get the test taken and see their number and then have a conversation between patient and doctor and then act accordingly.


Arcus: So, as the Chair, choosing directors, you’re looking for directors with both significant capacity and passion for your cause? Capacity around giving and capacity in terms of expertise in specific areas?


Mr. McInnes: Yes, and finding people with the right network and motivating those people to get involved in turn. You know, we’re trying to create a situation at Prostate Cancer Canada; we want our board members to think about the cause outside of their preparation for the six board meetings we have a year. I’m say to people, “You’re going to eat breakfast and lunch every day. Use two of those meals to take so and so out for lunch and talk about prostate cancer and see if there’s any connection with that person or their company.” We can then give identify these connections to our management team, who will then do a great job of pursuing things to see if we can build a relationship.



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