Case study: A democratic revolution at Mencap

The organisation has granted its stakeholders new governance and membership rights, writes Emilie Filou

The challenge

Over the past few years, learning disability charity Mencap has been reorganising its governance system in an attempt to empower the organisation's stakeholders.

Nine years ago, the charity changed its constitution to give all of its members a vote in governance matters. But Jill Tombs, director of human resources and governance at Mencap, says that this provision failed to involve the 500-plus independent groups that are affiliates of the charity.

"We wanted to give those organisations a similar voice and put them at the centre of our governance," she says.

The process

Tombs explains that people from these groups used to have to apply individually to become Mencap members. By granting automatic membership to its affiliates, the charity increased its membership from 14,000 to 300,000 virtually overnight. The new members are entitled to elect representatives at the charity's national assembly and to stand for its trustee board.

Mencap also consulted on how it could involve its affiliates more on a local level. Tombs adds: "We organised nearly 50 roadshows across the country to see how we could bring people together. A lot of people attended and we talked about membership, how they could be more involved and how that would affect policy."

The charity decided to set up district and regional committees to which local groups would be able to send representatives. These groups work with Mencap on projects affecting their communities. "This system ensures everyone has a stake in the organisation, at all levels," says Tombs.

The outcome

The changes were ratified at Mencap's AGM last month. Tombs says the charity has worked hard over the past 18 months to ensure everyone understands the proposed changes. It provided special support for members with learning difficulties.

It will be another year before the new structures are all properly in place, but Tombs is pleased with the results so far. "This new structure will see us through the next 10 years," she says.

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