At Work: Law and Governance - Trustee talk - The balance of the board is crucial

Nathalie Thomas interviews Penny Clark on restructuring the National Osteoporosis Society.

I have been a trustee of the National Osteoporosis Society for three years. I was diagnosed with osteoporosis at a relatively young age, in my early 40s. I phoned the society's helpline and the staff were really reassuring, helpful and informative. I thought I'd like to do something to help.

I became a member of the society. When I saw an advertisement in its quarterly magazine for board members who were already members of the society but who had business backgrounds or skills in areas such as marketing, I applied. They appointed three new trustees, including me.

During my time on the board, we have undertaken a governance review.

The society has been very fortunate over the years because it has benefited from the contributions of a large number of medical experts with a significant presence on the board. However, it was recognised that we needed a better balance between medical experts and society members.

The first step in changing the board was to recruit three new trustees, then to overhaul the governance structure, because at that stage the board was too big: there were about 18 or 19 trustees in all.

It was decided that there would be a main board of about 10 or 11 trustees and two sub-boards - one medical sub-board to retain all the medical knowledge that is so critical to the society and another sub-board to focus on the interests and concerns of the membership. That way, the board would be more balanced, but we wouldn't lose anyone's help or expertise.

I chair the members' sub-board, which is made up of nine people and has been in existence for almost a year. Beneath the members' sub-board are two forums that feed into it. One forum represents the society's volunteer groups - we have a network of more than 100 regional groups across the country. The other forum represents other members. The chair of each forum sits on the members' sub-board.

The two sub-boards report to the main board. On the main board we are gradually moving towards a system in which we have not only medical and member representation, but also other trustees with experience in fields such as fundraising or HR.

Over the next two to three years, we will be recruiting individuals who don't necessarily come from the traditional channels.

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