The National Union of Students admits that, a few years ago, it would not have been able to provide a strong voice for students. The umbrella organisation, which represents 600 students' unions, was impeded by deficits and poor governance. But thanks to a dramatic internal overhaul, it is now up to the task.
Alongside fighting for students' rights, the NUS has developed a trustee board that has helped to turn around the organisation's finances and formulate a strategy for growth. After a decade of deficits, the NUS posted a small surplus last year and a bigger surplus is predicted for 2010.
But the transformation has not been easy. The organisation's governance regime had remained largely unchanged since the 1950s. Since then, student numbers have ballooned and the NUS's turnover has grown to £8m a year.
It was hard to get the amendments passed. In order to change the NUS constitution, at least two-thirds of delegates at two successive conferences, each with a minimum of 1,500 students, had to agree to the proposals. A first set of changes was rejected in 2008, before an amended set of proposals was passed the year after.
The new constitution ushered in a series of changes, including a new 15-strong trustee board. Five trustees are student leaders from the executive council, six are students elected at the conference and four are lay trustees identified by recruitment consultants, who are interviewed and approved at the annual general meeting.
As a result of the changes, there has been greater scrutiny of senior staff and underperforming areas have been restructured, resulting in savings of £250,000.
Peter Stanford, director of the Longford Trust and a category judge, said: "I was impressed by the foresight in what they built, by their determination to cope with setbacks in selling their plans to the membership and their persistence in putting this venerable but volatile body back on track."
Awarded to a voluntary organisation that has reaped the benefits of improvements to its governance arrangements or practices
Nicola Evans, senior associate, Bircham Dyson Bell
Nigel Siederer, founder, The Good Foundations Consultancy
Peter Stanford, director, the Longford Trust, and chair, Aspire
Clare Thomas, chair, Association of Charitable Foundations
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