Category: Business for good
Publication date: September 13, 2022
Extent: 210 pages

Governing with Purpose

How to lead a brilliant board – a guide for charity trustees

Brian Cavanagh


Nothing really prepares you for what it’s like to become a board trustee of a charity you believe in; nothing, that is, until now.

This book talks you through how to become a brilliant board trustee, carry out your roles effectively and even enjoy the experience.

Written by a current board member, for boards and their trustees, each chapter outlines the key approaches to take to become part of an empowered and brilliant board. Discover the principles of Governing with Purpose, and find out why governance and leadership are core values for board trustees.

Above all, it speaks to the value of your role in leading a charity to achieve its objectives.

Brian Cavanagh has over 25 years’ experience of governance and leadership in the public sector in Scotland. He is the CEO of Calibrate, a mentoring consultancy specializing in strategic leadership and board governance for the charity sector in UK and Ireland. Brian chairs an SME in Scotland and is a board member of a housing association in Ireland.


Well written book with good advice for anyone on a board.


“ incredibly valuable resource for anyone new to the world of charity governance and an apt refresher for any existing trustee” Changing the Chemistry

Changing the Chemistry


“A powerful analysis challenging conventional views of the purpose of Charity Boards and Trustees and the role they should play. Brian shows with clarity and coherence how charity boards should be values led, based on trusted relationships, strategic in nature, a partnership of peers with executive staff without fear of respectful conflict and always forward looking. A book every charity trustee and CEO who wants to do the job well should read, no matter how long they have been in the role”
Ewan Aitken, CEO of Cyrenians

“Governing With Purpose is essential reading for Charity Trustees who strive to improve the effectiveness of their Boards. Brian Cavanagh presents a compelling case for governance as leadership representing a paradigm shift in the way in which trustees see their roles, both in terms of thinking and acting as leaders as well as feeling empowered and confident in the value they add to their charity. I would happily recommend Governing With Purpose to new Trustees as part of their induction and to Boards planning or undertaking Board Development Programmes. He argues that the false separation of policy formulation as an executive role and strategic thinking as the Trustee role is unhelpful and should be avoided. Instead he suggests the richness of experience around the Board Table can and should be harnessed in the co-creation of strategy and policy. This book is both thoughtful and thought provoking. It is well researched, helpfully referenced and most of all an excellent read.”
Gerry McLaughlin, Vice-chair, Robertson Trust

“It’s so refreshing to read a book on ‘Board Governance’ which is solely focused on the Charity Sector, and specifically on being an effective charity trustee. I have no doubt that Brian Cavanagh’s book will be invaluable to all current, and aspiring, charity trustees – it follows a clear structure, taking the reader through: first principles, key relationships, decision making, and governing with purpose. And throughout the text, there is a refreshing focus on the importance of continuous learning as the bedrock for what the author calls a ‘purposeful board’. Cavanagh quietly challenges the reader, in a wholly constructive way, to think afresh about board governance and to shift the balance of activity firmly away from scrutiny towards providing strategic direction. The text also offers a wealth of invaluable practical insight, which will be of interest to all charity trustees – old and new alike. You really should read this book – my judgement is that you’ll be a better trustee for having done so.”
Andrew Burns, Chair, Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations

“Governing with Purpose” is an incredibly valuable resource for anyone new to the world of charity governance and an apt refresher for any existing trustee. Brian manages to convey the key principles of governance in an accessible manner which he brings to life through illustrative case studies.
I was particularly heartened to see “diversity of thought” as an essential characteristic of a good trustee as the evidence shows that such diversity supports more effective decision making.
Whilst “Governing with Purpose” is aimed at charities, the principles of good governance are relevant across all sectors so it has wider applicability to boards.
This is a book which I will be returning to and will be encouraging others to do the same”.
Julie-Anne Jamieson, Non-Executive Director and President Elect of Changing the Chemistry

“Governing with Purpose should be given to every person who applied for a trustee role and without doubt as part of their induction. It does exactly what is sets out to do – with a step by step approach to leading a brilliant board. The book is not only packed full of fascinating real life case studies and practical tips, it also delves into the human psychology of power dynamics and critical thinking. This book really will keep you engaged to the last page and reframes so many misconceptions about how to add value and be a great trustee. A must read for everyone considering their trustee commitments now and in the future.”
Bonnie Clarke, CEO of Remarkable

“This is a great resource for anyone interested in voluntary sector leadership and governance. The charity sector is vital in enabling healthy and connected communities, and this book will help build confidence and skills for those in stewardship roles.”
Brian Dalton CEO Irish in Britain


Table of Contents


Part 1 First Principles

Chapter 1 Governing with purpose
What does it mean for board members, understanding your why as a board member and reimagining your role

Chapter 2 – What does good board governance look like?
Setting out foundations of how board members add value, understanding roles and the power relationships around the board and outwith the board room

Chapter 3 Governing Cause Organisations – keeping to purpose
A wider look at what governing in a values-based organisation in regulatory framework means – and the challenges and opportunities that entails.

Part 2 – Critical relationships

Chapter 4 The key relationship: Primus inter pares – the Chair
Identifying the different types of Chair/CEO combinations and outlining the best balance for Governing with Purpose

Chapter 5 The key relationship; the CEO
Setting out the roles of the CEO and exploring the different approaches and their impact on relationships with the board.

Part 3 revisiting the roles

Chapter 6 Effective decision making
What are the key components and techniques that make for good decision making? How much should be delegated and what is the role of CEO and senior management in that? What roles do committees have in managing and assessing risk, and above all how do the personality types of board members impact upon decision making?

Chapter 7 Groupthink versus Dissent – getting the balance right
Examining the nature of constructive challenge and the dangers of Groupthink and Dissent – and how board members play out their roles of collective responsibility and personal and moral views as a core to Governing with Purpose

Chapter 8 Strategy versus Scrutiny – getting the balance right
Exploring the dilemma how Boards often feel more comfortable in their scrutiny role yet getting more involved in the shaping of strategy is where boards need to be – chapter outlines how boards should manage that dilemma

Part 4 Re-imagining Purpose

Chapter 9 Governance as Leadership
Introducing the concept of governance as leadership to improve general board effectiveness, and how boards can realise their power

Chapter 10 Board as Ambassador and Influencer
Exploring the under-realised importance of a board member as ambassador and influencer – and hoe boards can offer real added value and demonstrate their leadership

Chapter 11 The Learning Board
Showing that Governing with Purpose can only be fully realised through the development of a learning board, with thoughts on how to achieve that

Chapter 12 – Recruit and Renew
Showing to how to develop successful succession planning and board renewal

Appendix one

The Holy Grail – the perfect board meeting

Appendix two

Roles and responsibilities



Paperback / 9781788603546 / September 13, 2022 / £14.99

Ebook / 9781788603560 / September 12, 2022 / £7.99

Paperback and eBook Bundle / £16.99


Brian Cavanagh

For over 30 years Brian Cavanagh has been involved in governance and leadership. He has extensive experience of governance and decision making, including 17 years as a city councillor and 10 years chairing Scotland’s second-largest health authority.
He is the founder and CEO of Calibrate, a mentoring consultancy specializing in strategic leadership, board governance and development across the public and charity sectors in Ireland and the UK.
He also acts a trusted advisor to CEOs and boards of many leading charities, giving him deep insight into how boards operate and what is required to improve the consistency and quality of governance in the charity sector.
Brian currently chairs an SME and understands the onerous responsibility that governing can bring. A passionate advocate of the value of the lay voice on boards, he believes they deserve better to fulfil their governance and leadership responsibilities.