Governance at World Vision Canada

Just as former sponsored child Hnin (centre) supports vulnerable children in Myanmar with homework help, our Board of Directors volunteers their time for children around the world.

In Myanmar, a young woman sits surrounded by eight children, all of whom are smiling broadly and look to be very good friends. Several of the children are holding pencils. One of them has her arm around the young woman. The young woman has her arms around two of the children. They all look to be very comfortable and happy.
“I want children in my community to grow up educated, and willing to help other vulnerable children,” says Hnin. She models that willingness, at a World Vision drop-in centre equipping struggling students to triumph.

The Board of Directors is a group of carefully selected volunteers, giving of their time, talents and expertise. As followers of Jesus, they are called to ensure that World Vision Canada meets the highest standards in all aspects of our work and accountability.

In Conversation with Our Board of Directors

Our Board of Directors ensures that World Vision Canada’s work for children is of the highest calibre anywhere in the world. Recently, several took your questions.

Click on a question to view the answer

On Selecting the Best Directors

How do you find the right people to serve on the Board?

The selection process is rigorous, thorough and lengthy, explains Jeannie Haggerty, chair of the Governance Committee. The committee leads the process of identifying, assessing and developing potential Board Directors.

“We start looking for new Directors several years in advance,” she says. “That’s because it’s so crucial to have just the right balance and composition.”

“Directors must bring experience and perspective from a wide variety of backgrounds,” she continues, “so they can do a good job of representing Canadian donors. For example, we want to be sure we have gender balance, and a strong representation of cultures and age groups.”

“Each Director brings unique expertise. Take someone out of the mix, and without the right person to replace them the Board simply can’t function as effectively.”

Why is finding new Board Directors such an involved process?

Joining the Board is a multi-stage process. In addition to time spent on World Vision Canada’s Corporation, it involves:

  • exploratory conversations
  • a thorough review of CV and references
  • a visit to World Vision Canada’s national office
  • comprehensive orientation
  • a vote by the Board
  • ensuring the potential Director is aligned to World Vision Canada’s mission, vision and core values
  • completion of a rigorous conflict-of-interest process and police-record check

Why so many stages? The Board’s business is of crucial importance to the well-being of thousands of children worldwide. The stakes are high, and the learning curve steep. That’s why World Vision Canada has a larger entity called the Corporation, which we use as a type of training ground for potential Board members.

“It’s a good learning process,” explains Jeannie Haggerty, Governance Committee chair. “We develop possible Directors by first inviting them to serve as members of our larger Corporation. In this way, we help someone to develop a thorough understanding of World Vision Canada before she or he is considered as a Board Director.”

What type of expertise do Board Directors need to have?

A strong World Vision Canada Board must include a wide range of strengths and expertise, explains Jeannie Haggerty, Governance Committee chair. The Governance Committee is responsible for finding and developing Board Directors. Some of the kinds of expertise we look for are:

  • law
  • business and accounting
  • human resources
  • education
  • child health
  • child protection
  • marketing and communication
  • strategic planning
  • international development
  • public relations
  • theology
  • sociology and culture

But even all of these strengths combined are not enough on their own, says Jeannie. “Even the most impressive CV is of no use unless a Director also has a heart for serving the poor,” she says. “It’s true that World Vision is one of Canada’s largest charities, and has substantial annual revenue. But we’re also serving the world’s most vulnerable people. It takes a certain kind of individual.”

On Ensuring Accountability

How does the Board help ensure accountability?

The Board carefully reviews all aspects of World Vision Canada’s annual finances, one key aspect of organizational accountability. The Board has an Audit Committee that oversees financial stewardship and risk. This includes the relationship between World Vision Canada and our external auditors, as well as the work of our staff internal audit function.

“The Audit Committee’s job is to ensure the highest standards of accountability,” says Cheryl Leonhardt, chair of the Audit Committee. “We oversee the integrity of financial statements, the effectiveness of internal controls, as well as compliance with established accounting practices, organizational policies and legal, regulatory and donor requirements.”

The Audit Committee also oversees the internal and external audit processes, making it their practice to meet with the external auditor in private. The external audit findings are presented directly to this committee.

What are the benefits to meeting privately with the auditor? An auditor with freedom to speak directly to an independent Board can raise any concerns with the organization’s conduct without fear of consequence. And conversely, the Board committee can question the auditor about her or his perceptions of an organization’s management.

How do you oversee risk management?

Another of the Audit Committee’s responsibilities is to oversee risk management for World Vision Canada, says Chair Cheryl Leonhardt.

“Risk management is an area receiving additional focus among for-profit and not-for-profit organizations alike,” explains Cheryl. “In the fast-paced, dynamic world in which organizations now operate, there’s a growing recognition that several smaller risks combined together can often pose a far greater challenge to the organization than one single risk.”

The Audit Committee interacts with World Vision Canada’s Director of Risk, its CEO, its CFO and other members of the senior leadership team.

“The Board has the authority to ensure risks are identified and managed, as it reviews and approves strategic objectives and annual operating plans and budgets,” says Cheryl. “The Board also brings expertise and experience that can broaden the lens through which an organization looks at itself – and the risks which may impact its operations and strategy.”

The Audit Committee’s risk management job has expanded in recent years, as World Vision Canada implements an approach called Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) to better understand the possible risks underlying strategy development and implementation. “A recent survey by North Carolina State University indicated that only 13 percent of non-profits surveyed have put a formal ERM structure in place,” says Cheryl. “We believe it’s a best practice that is critical to managing risk in this day and age.”

On Financial Efficiency

How do you make sure donors’ gifts have the greatest-possible impact for children?

“Donors give with children’s well-being in mind,” says Cheryl Leonhardt, chair of the Audit Committee. “We help ensure that World Vison Canada invests wisely in programs and strategies with the power to bring real and lasting change to the children we serve.”

“That’s one of the reasons we review plans and strategies so carefully,” Cheryl continues, “not just at the outset, but as they’re being implemented. We appreciate the rigour staff bring to their own regular reviews of programs under way, and their desire to build on successes and learn from challenges. We bring our own rigour to the process, leaving no stone unturned as we ensure programs are doing their utmost for child well-being.”

The Board also works hard to ensure transparency, not just through financial charts, but through effective impact reporting, says Cheryl. “Several Board Directors travel overseas every year, to see for ourselves that the work is delivering maximum benefit for the children our donors care about.”

What about World Vision Canada salaries? How do you make sure staff and leaders are paid appropriately?

“In setting the president’s salary, we start with an industry average of what a leader with the skills, experience, scope of command and responsibilities would earn,” explains Board Chair Ron McKerlie.

“We look at both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, across the Greater Toronto Area. This is where the president has to live, and the cost of living is higher here than elsewhere in the country.”

Once an average is determined, the Board reduces the president’s salary by at least a further 25 percent. The same pattern is followed for vice presidents at World Vision Canada, with their salaries reduced by 15 percent. Directors’ salaries are reduced by 10 percent.

Why doesn’t the Board help reduce salaries further?

“It would weaken World Vision Canada and the crucial work it does,” explains Board Chair Ron McKerlie. “The organization’s very ability to help the poor rests largely on the calibre of people it hires, and the way in which it is run.”

The Board is responsible for the well-being of World Vision employees and providing a salary that is fair, Ron explains. Reducing salaries too much could jeopardize our ability to attract and retain top performers. Finding such people, and investing in their development, is essential for ensuring donors’ gifts make the greatest possible impact around the world.

“The Board realizes our employees are motivated by what they do and their compensation is not their focus,” adds Ron. “If anything, part of the Board’s role has been to encourage World Vision Canada’s President Michael Messenger to build a balanced lifestyle, slowing down enough to take vacation and time to reflect. We’re accountable to donors to ensure that the organization’s president doesn’t burn out.”

On Future Planning

Besides accountability, how is the Board involved in strategic planning, and future plans for World Vision?

Being a Board Director at World Vision Canada is not just about poring over balance sheets and program reports. Because of the diverse background and experiences of our Directors, the Board is a critical contributor to developing the future strategy and direction for the organization.

“The Board is responsible to vote on and approve World Vision’s annual budgets and operating plans, as well as its long-term strategy,” explains Ron McKerlie, Chair of the Board. “But we’re actively engaged in strategic issues at every meeting. At least half of our meeting times are given over to asking strategic questions, challenging and encouraging World Vision’s leaders. Our goal is to help discern together the best direction in which we should go as an organization.”

More than ever before, the Board of Directors was actively involved in developing orangebook, World Vision’s Strategic Plan, which it approved in June 2016. It’s aligned with plans for World Vision’s work around the world.

“World Vision Canada’s new strategy is about reaching toward a future in which families no longer experience poverty and injustice,” says Ron. “We’ve come up with new ideas, bold new approaches and increased focus as we focus on reaching the world’s most vulnerable children.”

This strategic plan has been intentionally designed to be more flexible, allowing the Board and senior leadership team to be more responsive to the changing charitable landscape, as well as the needs of children. But, as Ron says, “One thing won’t change: our commitment to our vision, mission and values. As a Board, we want to be sure that World Vision Canada always stays focused on what’s most important – and that’s the children we are privileged to serve.”