QUESTION – A vacancy occurred on a committee and a man said his wife would be happy to fill it. The committee was in need of new members, so the group was happy to accept her. Is this good for the organisation?
From a governance perspective, there is technically nothing which disallows a husband and wife to serve on the same board or committee unless the constitution expressly forbids it – and some do. However, the organisation is better to allow this only as a last resort and only as a temporary measure.
The real problem is the perception of inappropriate decision making or collusion. So when a tricky issue arises, if people even think there is collusion between the husband and wife, then you have conflict you don’t need. This is when whispers of nepotism emerge.
My best advice for you is to avoid having husband and wife teams on the committee unless they have entirely different roles which do not cross over (the same applies for other relations such as brothers, sisters, nephews etc)
If the 2 people in question both have access to make financial transactions – then that should be avoided at all costs. This will not only protect the organisation, it also protects the people involved from any accusations (no matter how small). These could be hard to recover from.
If the 2 people involved start to make decisions about the way the organisation runs, without discussion with other committee members, that can be very dangerous.
If the 2 people involved start to make decisions about who does what, or who gets what, who is entitled to what, then you open a Pandora’s box of potential conflict from which there is never a winner.
Having husbands and wives on the same committees is very common and usually causes no problems. The problems arise when it comes to intent. If they want to be on the committee to genuinely serve, then that is fine. But if they want to be on the committee to “run the show”, then that is a sign of wanting control and/or power. Bear in mind, that everyone says that they want to serve – even the power people say this.
The proof is in the pudding. You will very quickly know if the couple want control – they will start doing things and saying – “it was quicker for us to just do it.” And it may well have been. It depends on what “it” was.
Another way to “test” if nepotism is at play is how they react to being questioned. Genuine “service” people will understand all of this and have no problem separating the roles. Power people will argue and accuse you of not trusting them and threaten to leave or resign. If they do, let them. It’s a sign of their lack of integrity.
Many organisations have been literally destroyed by husband and wife teams who wanted to and did, take over. It’s even worse if they have control of the money.
If you have a meetings question you’d like answered, ask the Meetings Man