Comment: Five signs your Muslim-led organisation might be failing

30th Aug 2019

Hassan Joudi

In Part 1 of this series, we explored three common types of leadership crises that many voluntary groups or associations may encounter: Founder’s Syndrome, Power Vacuums and Splitting Up.

As Mosque Affairs Co-ordinator for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), I’ve met with leaders of Muslim-led voluntary organisations across the UK, from Aberdeen to Plymouth, and from Wales to Yorkshire, and no matter where you are in the country or what the size of your voluntary group or association is, the patterns that lead to a leadership crises are the usually very similar.

So why do so many voluntary groups or associations suffer a leadership crisis? What are the root causes? And most importantly, what can we do to avoid them in future?

If you volunteer with a group or association, I propose five key ‘tests’ to ask yourself, to help you gauge what level your group or association is at in terms of leadership and governance:

You haven’t held an Annual General Meeting (AGM) for the past 2 years.

AGMs or reviews are an important opportunity for your active volunteers to come together, reflect on past successes and plan for the future. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is reported to have said, “One hour of reflection is better than 70 years of worship.”

If you’ve had an AGM, you didn’t have anything to show off your work.

It may sound surprising, but I’ve been to many AGMs where the volunteers are just so stretched or limited in terms of resources, that there isn’t even a simple report, video or slide presentation – or anything else to summarise to their members what they’ve accomplished in the previous 12 months. Celebrating your achievements is an essential building block to a healthy organisation and acts as an important avenue for sharing information with your future potential leaders (see 3 & 4 below). Of course, for registered charities, reports and accounts must be filed to the Charity Commission as well.

You’ve had the same leader (Chair, President, CEO, Secretary-General) for more than 5 years.

Whilst a good leader may have a lot to offer, having the same leader for too long risks giving your group or association the image that it is an institution fashioned in the leader’s image. Fresh ideas and renewed purpose from a new figurehead are key to reinvigorating your volunteers and its passion for achieving the objectives your group was initially established to achieve.

Many incumbent leaders will often complain that there is no one suitable — or no one willing to put in the hard work they’ve put in — to handover to. This is understandable as finding a suitable successor is certainly not easy – no matter whether you are a small voluntary association or an FTSE 100 corporate – but having a plan is essential. As many business gurus will tell you, succession planning starts from before you need it.

If you’ve tried to have leadership elections, there’s only one candidate to choose from.

Your written Constitution or Terms of Reference (see below) should outline a mechanism for how the next leader is nominated, selected or elected. Whatever the mechanism, it’s important that either a) more than one person feels comfortable and empowered to put themselves forward for their role, and/or b) that more than one person has sufficient trust from the current leadership team such that the incumbent leader feels comfortable handing over the keys of the organisation to them without a nasty power struggle. Otherwise, at best look forward to a boring election at the AGM with only one candidate to choose from, or at worst a heated and emotionally draining power struggle that benefits nobody.

Finally, you haven’t got a written Constitution or Terms of Reference (ToR), or if you do, it hasn’t been updated for the last 5-10 years.

Why does your organisation exist? What are its objectives? How is the leadership selected? Whilst best practice is to have a full Constitution document outlining these and other key elements of your organisation based on model documents (e.g. Charity Commission model documents), a short ToR or other simple governing document that acts as a reference point that your members agree on can go a long way to minimising the risk of disputes.

And whilst there is no formal recommended duration for how often to update your governing document, it should ideally be reviewed whenever there is a major change to your group or association, or at least every 5-10 years, otherwise you may find it is no longer relevant or practical (and thus a barrier to your future growth and development).

If you answered ‘Yes’ to two or less of the above, well done! You’re probably faring better than most voluntary groups or associations in terms of leadership and governance – please share your successful formulae with other groups!

With strong leadership and governance being a necessary foundation of a sustainable group or association, you are more likely to have a stable platform from which your voluntary group or association can grow, remain true to your community’s needs and attract more active volunteers.

If you answered ‘Yes’ to three or more, don’t despair. Take a step back, remind yourself what your organisation is all about and why you got involved in the first place, and consider what small things you could initiate now, to ensure its long-term sustainability and future. A compilation of useful resources that may help you is provided at the end of this article.

In Part 3 of this series, we will explore what lessons we can draw from the life of Prophet Muhammad (p) for the leadership & governance of Muslim-led voluntary groups and associations in Britain today.

Hassan Joudi is the Deputy Secretary General of the MCB and also volunteers for several other Muslim-led organisations in the UK.

He can be contacted on twitter @HassanJoudi_

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