When things go wrong for community group boards, sometimes they go really wrong. So where do you go when there is a dispute within a board?
In cases involving criminal matters such as fraud, the most obvious step is to go to the police. But in many cases of board dispute, the situation is not so clear cut. What do you do if you suspect nepotism? Or incompetence? Or deception? Or a breach of the rules/constitution/objects?
If you are on the right side of the allegations (i.e. you are the one with the concern), the most obvious remedy is to call a special meeting (or wait for the AGM) and vote the wrong-doer/s out. However, as many board members know, this is not always possible - as they say in politics, you need the numbers.
You should also keep in mind that this can be an extremely public, divisive and destructive option to take. It is probably better to consider this a last resort and look at your other options first.
Your first step should be to consult your organisation's rules (or constitution or objects) to see if there is a mechanism identified for resolving disputes.
Most organisations will also have a policy for resolution of disputes (if you don't have one check with the Policy Bank to see if there is one you can adapt and adopt.) This can also provide guidance about how a dispute should be handled within your organisation.
If you don't have a dispute resolution rule or policy, or if using that mechanism fails, there are still a few options open to you, although the state is hesitant to become closely involved in the workings of the not-for-profit sector.
The website of Consumer Affairs Victoria, for example, states unequivocally that:
Most state agencies concerned with not-for-profit organisations have similar warnings. This can leave you with limited options if you feel that there is a very real problem with your board and/or a member within it.
If things are really serious, you might want to consider consulting a lawyer, however this can be a very expensive (and extremely divisive) option.
For organisations on the East Coast there is a free alternative - Queensland, NSW, the ACT and Victoria all have an official dispute resolution service.
The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria, for example, can help resolve:
In other states, the equivalents are:
In all other states you will have to pay for your mediation.
If, after considering all of these options, there is still no resolution to the problem with your board or committee, it is time to consider your own place on the board.
You will need to decide:
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