A Nonprofit Board Balks at a CEO’s Proposal – How to Try to Move Forward

A Nonprofit Board Balks at a CEO’s Proposal – How to Try to Move Forward Move Forward*

By; Eugene Fram

A small nonprofit whose work was receiving positive community attention was suddenly resistant to its CEO’s most recent proposal, according to a staff member I encountered.
The Board, a conservative one, was unwilling to provide leadership for a proposal that would move the organization in a somewhat new direction in assisting community clients.
The CEO and staff provided arguments that showed ample need for the program’s services and even access to sufficient financial support.
Yet, the Board had rejected the suggested foray into moderately uncharted waters.
When this kind of schism occurs, there are three alternatives: the CEO may resign, a dramatic protest may arise or a reasoned board review of the pros and cons of the proposal may ultimately change the board’s position. Here are some steps that will facilitate the latter option:

1.Review the agency’s history: What have been the best and poorest
decisions made by the board and management in the last five years? Determine
how the poorest decisions have affected outcomes and employee turnover.
Have there been false start-ups and orphan projects? Is the strategic plan
sitting somewhere on the shelf?

2.Seek allies: Review the above data with board members and managers who might be prospective supporters of the project. Without several influential allies, the outlook is dim. The board members might come from the group which voted for the proposal. Try to identify potential funders who may have a particular interest in the program; encourage them to bring in others who may wish to participate in the new endeavor.

3. Find Partnerships: Locate case examples of organizations that have
had success with similar programs. Benefit from their counsel. Consider potential
partnerships if, in fact, they are agreeable.

4. Presentation is everything: If the new program makes it to another board review, it should be presented carefully and without excess emotion. Stick to the newly developed facts and those that have already debated: its usefulness to clients, the community and/or other organizations. Share proposed outcomes, impacts, results, goals and assessments. Implementation details can be provided later. Most important is to assure the public, who may be involved, and the board of the program’s alignment to the organization’s strategic plan

Trying to change the consensus or a majority vote of a nonprofit board is extremely difficult. When a CEO proposes a program which can enhance the nonprofit’s growth and contributions to clients albeit expand its reach, I feel it is better to try to reverse the board’s consensus or vote than call for the CEO’s resignation or more other dramatic protest. With the right process, there will be significant rewards.

* Source: Based on some ideas developed from Tom Okarama (2013) “When a Board Falls Short of
Expectations,” April 8th. http://www.tomokarama.com/2013/04/08/when-a-board-falls-short-of-expectations/

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