The Devil’s Advocate on a Nonprofit Board: Asset or Liability?



The Devil’s Advocate on a Nonprofit Board: Asset or Liability?

By: Eugene Fram              Free Digiatl Image

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An unwritten rule for nonprofit board membership is that it is best to “go along to get along.” But sometimes a nonprofit director’s “no” vote to an action that has had inadequate discussion can allow him/h to avoid tax penalties that have been levied on other board members for lack of due care.

Stanford University research results indicate that groups with a lone minority dissenter outperform other groups where all members agree. In addition, these groups…”are more successful than (groups) in which all members disagree and fall prey to escalated emotional, difficult-to resolve (group) brawls “ *

The key to success, according to these data, is to,” … have a devil’s advocate (DA) on the nonprofit board. … This is a person or a small board minority that “has the sensitivity to see the differences, perceives them as conflict, and then communicates about the differences in non-confrontational ways.” **



How Nonprofit Boards Can Support Management & Staff and Refrain From Micromanaging!


How Nonprofit Boards Can Support Management & Staff and Refrain From Micromanaging!

By: Eugene Fram

The dilemma is common to nonprofit organizations. As start-ups, everyone aspires to do everything. Passion for the mission and determination to “get it right” imbue directors with the desire to do it all. But once the organization starts to mature, board roles shift to focus more broadly on policy and strategy issues. With the advent of qualified personnel to handle operations, there are many overview activities, sans micromanaging, available to board members. Following are some ways that boards can assist and demonstrate support for operations, CEOs and staffs without interfering. (more…)

Different Strokes For Nonprofit Board Folks

Different Strokes For Nonprofit Board Folks

By: Eugene Fram     Free Digital Photo

Over decades of service on nonprofit boards, I have interfaced with board colleagues who possess a variety of performance styles and behaviors. Certain of these types seem to be common to all boards. My comments below are based on adaptations of a director classification system suggested by David Frankel, Partner of Founder Collection. *

The Eager Beaver  

This board member (30s to early 40s) has probably been successful as an entrepreneur or is, perhaps, rapidly rising through middle management in a larger organization. He/she wants to “get things done”. His/her impatience with the typically slow nonprofit rate of progress can be channeled and directed by the CEO or Board Chair. Discouraged by lack of action, this director may quietly exit the board on the pretext that work pressures have increase. On the other hand, if properly nurtured, this category can offer substantial leadership contributions.  

The Checked-Out Check Writer 

Serving on a nonprofit board has likely become a family or company tradition for some directors. (Some local nonprofits are now about 100 years old or older.) Regardless of the person’s dedication to the mission, nonprofit board service becomes part of this director’s DNA. Often they develop into respected leaders and can be conduits to modest or substantial donations. In addition, they have access to interpersonal networks that are useful in recruiting other able board members. This cohort should be valued and their contributions, acknowledged.

The Vanilla Director 

This is a director who attends meetings regularly, occasionally makes an interesting comment. He/she is dedicated to the mission of the organization and can make substantial financial or other contributions. One such director I observed, volunteered to assist the staff with a difficult field problem.   According to Frankel, these directors are “less critical and offer encouragement…. ” However, like many other nonprofit board members, across behavioral types, avoid rigorous discussions at board meetings. If substantial conflict appears between factions of the board on a major issue, they may resign instead of taking an unpopular stand.

The Nonprofit Entrepreneur

This is a director who has a substantial understanding of the nonprofit sector. He/s has served on other nonprofit boards and is dedicated to the nonprofit’s mission. He/s has a desire to help move the nonprofit to its next level of service to clients. He/s often brings bold or different perspectives to the board and management. She/h knows that to achieve growth and improve client services, it is necessary to “sell” ideas to other board members, as well as the CEO. It’s important that the nonprofit entrepreneur and CEO are on the same page in terms of the organization’s future and potential to serve clients. If not, the CEO, unfortunately, may view the entrepreneur with his/h “fast track” style as a disrupter.

An overview of nonprofit boards tends to focus on the unique set of skills and work experience they bring to the table (doctors, professors, accountants, full-time homemakers etc.) A closer look at the board suggests another layer of classification i.e. individual styles, motivation and behaviors. Herein is challenge and opportunity to develop meaningful board experiences for each individual who has said “yes” to the call to service.









A Nonprofit Board Must Focus On Its Organization’s Impacts

A Nonprofit Board Must Focus On Its Organization’s Impacts

By: Eugene Fram

“One of the key functions of a (nonprofit) board of directors is to oversee (not micromanage) the CEO, ensuring that (stakeholders) are getting the most from their investments.” * State and Federal compliance regulations have been developed to make certain that boards have an obligation to represent stakeholders. These include the community, donors, foundations and clients, but not the staff as some nonprofit boards have come to believe. The failure of nonprofit boards, as reported almost daily by one blog site, ** shows something is wrong.  (Also see: :  Following are some inherent problems. (more…)

Do Nonprofit Directors Face Cyber Security Risk?

Do Nonprofit Directors Face Cyber Security Risk?

By: Eugene Fram      Free Digital Image

The cyber security (CS) debacles faced by Elections, Target and others may seem far afield from the concerns of nonprofit directors, except for the giants in the area, like AARP. However, think about this hypothetical scenario.

A group of high school students hacked into the computer system of a local nonprofit offering mental health services and gain access to records of clients, perhaps even placing some of the records of other teenagers on the internet. (more…)

Is An Agile Approach Appropriate for Nonprofits?

Is An Agile Approach Appropriate for Nonprofits?

By: Eugene Fram             Free Digital Image

Many nonprofit organizations are going to have to transform themselves. They are required to adapt to shrinking donor funding sources related to the new tax law, shrinking state and local revenue sources and increased costs, often to serve larger groups of clients. One new potential approach to meet these challenges can be adapted from Agile Project Delivery Approaches. * Nonprofits may find they are venues for making faster decisions to seizing opportunities and reducing costs. Agile Project Delivery (APD) helps address these challenges by disciplined proven practices and through continuous stakeholder feedback.

Agile projects are based on four basic concepts: * (more…)

Enlarging the Nonprofit Recruitment Matrix: The art of selecting new board members—Part II

Enlarging the Nonprofit Recruitment Matrix: The art of selecting new board members—Part II

By: Eugene Fram        Free Digital Image

There’s never enough to say about the selection of nonprofit board members. Following my last post on board behaviors and cultures I ran across a guide fo desirable skills/abilities for “for-profit” directors. From this list, I suggest the following additions to the recruitment matrices of 21st century nonprofit board candidates to improve board productivity. * Those included will have:

Executive and Non-Executive Experiences: These include planners with broad perspectives needed to have visionary outlooks, a well as persons with unusually strong dedication to the organization’s mission. It may include a senior executive from a business organization and a person who has had extensive client level experience. Examples for an association for the blind could be the human resources VP for a Fortune 500 corporation and/or a visually impaired professor at a local university.

Industry Experience or Knowledge: An active or retired executive who has or is working in the same or allied field. However, those who can be competitive with the nonprofit for fund development could then present a significant conflict of interest.

Leadership: Several directors should be selected on the bases of their leadership skills/abilities in business or other nonprofit organizations. Having too many with these qualifications may lead to internal board conflict, especially if they have strong personalities.

Governance: Every board member should have a detailed understanding of the role of governance, their overview, financial/due diligence responsibilities and the potential personal liabilities if they fail to exercise due care. In practice, nonprofits draw from such a wide range of board backgrounds, one can only expect about one-quarter of most boards to have the requisite knowledge. But there are many nonprofit boards that I have encountered that even lack one person with the optimal board/management governance knowledge. Some become so involved with mission activities that they do what the leadership tells them when governance issues are raised. Example: One nonprofit the author encountered, with responsibilities for millions of dollars of assets, operated for 17 years without D&O insurance coverage because the board leadership considered it too costly.

Strategic Thinking & Other Desirable Behavioral Competencies: Not every board member can be capable of or interested in strategic thinking. Their job experiences and educations require them to excel in operations, not envisioning the future. Consequently, every board needs several persons who have visionary experiences and high Emotional
Quotients (EQs.) Those with high EQs can be good team players because they are able to empathize with the emotion of others in the group. Finding board candidates with these abilities takes detailed interpersonal vetting because they do not appear on a resume.

Subject Matter Expertise: Nonprofit Boards have had decades of experience in selecting board candidates by professional affiliations like businessperson, marketing expert, accountant, etc.

Other Factors Relevant to the Particular Nonprofit: Examples: A nonprofit dedicated to improve the lives of children needs to seek a child psychology candidate. One focusing on seniors should seek a geriatric specialist.