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It's important that conflicts of interest for your committee members are recognised, recorded and managed, to promote integrity and transparency.
A conflict of interest arises when an individual, who is in a position to influence a decision within an organisation, has the potential to exploit that position to benefit personally, for a friend, family member or another connection, at the expense of the organisation's best interests. A committee member would have a conflict of interest if they (or their family) would be set to benefit personally from a committee decision.
What is a conflict of interest for a committee member?
In the context of a sports club, an example conflict of interest could be one of your committee members owning a local building company at the time that your club is looking to build an extension for the clubhouse. Although the club has not yet contracted that company, since the committee member is in a position to influence which company the club use, it has become a conflict of interest for that individual. In theory, that committee member could sway the decision to use their company, even though they know it's not the best choice for the club. It's worth noting that having conflicts of interest does not mean that your committee members have done something wrong. It's often inevitable that conflicts of interest arise; what's important is that they are recognised and handled appropriately, so as not to risk your club's integrity or reputation. So in the example above, it could be the case that the committee member's company is the best to use, but the committee member should be open about the relationship from the beginning and not involved in the decision making process over which building company to use. This way they can't be accused of influencing the decision for personal gain at the expense of the club.
Recognising conflicts of interest
Asking committee members to disclose any conflicts of interests is the first step towards managing them and making sure committee members only act in the best interests of the club. Committee members should disclose conflicts of interest at the earliest possible opportunity. When appointing new committee members, simply ask them to disclose any potential or current conflicts of interest and capture this, either in the meeting's minutes or through a register of interests. You could build in a regular, short time slot into start of committee meetings to check if anyone has any new conflicts to disclose or update on.
Recording conflicts of interest
Once committee members have disclosed conflicts of interest, it's a good idea to capture these using a Register of Interests. This can be a simple document summarising any current or potential conflicts your committee members have. Making sure this information is recorded demonstrates that the committee are aware of the conflicts and are taking steps towards managing them. It promotes transparency for your club members, and reduces the risk of your integrity being questioned later in time. Remember to check in with committee members regularly to see if the status of conflicts of interests has changed to keep the register up-to-date. As suggested earlier, you could build a regular slot into committee meetings to do this.
Managing conflicts of interest
Declaring and recording your interests is good practice, but if decisions are still influenced by these connections at the expense of the club, it hasn't really helped protect your integrity! Taking actions to manage these conflicts of interest is just as important. Managing conflicts of interest could involve excluding a committee member with a personal connection from related meetings or decision making processes, so as to ensure that only the club's best interests are considered. It's usually up to the chair to consult with the rest of the committee to decide how to act. Whatever action is taken, make sure this information is captured either in the meeting's minutes or on the register of interests.