audit comitttees

Mismanagement Causes Huge Agency Failure—A Word To The Wise Nonprofit?

Mismanagement Causes Huge Agency Failure—A Word To The Wise Nonprofit?

By Eugene Fram

Rarely do failed for-profit or nonprofit organizations get a posthumous review of what actually went wrong. The collapse of one of the largest nonprofits in the US, the Federal Employment Guidance Service (FEGS) of New York City, is a noteworthy exception. Details of the causes that led to the human service’s demise were aired widely throughout NY media. * This organization had a $250 million budget, with 1900 employees who served 120,000 households covering a range of mental health and disability services, housing, home care and employment services.

Following are my interpretations of what its board should have done to avoid such a tragedy.

Failure of nonprofits: Failure of small nonprofits is rampant for a wide variety of known reasons. For example, “Nonprofits tend to be more trusting of their employees and have less stringent financial controls than their for-profit counterparts.” **

Outside of fraud being involved, the FEGS failure demonstrates that no nonprofit is too big to fail, probably because of a lack of board due care. Boards have to be acutely aware of the professional financial competencies of their CFO and CEO or well-meaning people who naively believed that loans could be easily repaid. There should have been a well-documented financial l strategy. The nonprofit closed with $47 million in loans/liabilities/debts.

Symptoms of impending collapse: Clearly with $47 million being owed, common financial ratios should have alerted knowledgeable board members to the coming catastrophe. But in the nonprofit environment, it is not unusual to that find directors, even business executives, are unfamiliar with the fund accounting approach used by nonprofit organizations.

In addition, contracting city and state agencies failed in their reviews of the organization’s finances. However, some nonprofits, either intentionally on unintentionally, can saddle contract reviewers and directors with so much information that even the most conscientious can’t spot problems. (Humorously, directors in this category are referred to as “mushroom directors” because like growing mushrooms, they are kept in the dark an covered with excrement. But this type of tactic was successfully used against IRS auditors in the Madoff debacle.)

Government or Foundation Contracts: In accepting these contracts, nonprofits must be realistic about whether or not there is enough money to cover full costs. They can’t be blinded by what the contract can do for the organization’s client. If adequate overhead funding is not attached to one or more of these agreements, they eventually can cause bankruptcy, because the nonprofit eventually will have to borrow or seek additional donations to cover them.

How Nonprofit Boards Can Avoid Problems

Review Financials: Current financials need to be given to directors monthly, or at least quarterly if the board meets less often. The very detailed budget data can often be difficult for those without budget experience. At the least, everybody on the finance committee needs to be able to intelligently review the income statement and balance sheet. Also they need to be aware that funding accounting permits some unusual twists—food donations, for example, can be included in revenues, based on an estimate of their value. Consequently, cash revenues and expenditures need to be a focus for directors’ analysis.

Make certain that financials are delivered on timely and complete bases. Problem Example: One CFO didn’t submit accounts receivable reports for nine months because he said he was too busy to compile it. Neither the board nor the CEO demanded issuance of the report. When finally delivered, it was clear that the CFO was listing a substantial number of noncollectable accounts as active ones. Both the CFO and CEO were fired, and the nonprofit had to hired expensive forensic accountants to review the impact.

Gaps Between Revenues and Expenditures: This is the ultimate red flag, if not followed carefully. It may vary from period-to-period in a predictable pattern that everybody understands, but if the gap continues, say for four to six months, strong board action is necessary.

Adopt written financial policies: These are necessary to make sure all concerned with finances are on the same page. Since interpretation is often required in financial decisions, nothing should be left open to broad interpretation.

Contracts with governments, foundations and others: Make certain that reimbursements for indirect costs are included. If not included, have a benefactor ready to step in to cover the costs.

An old Chinese proverb, “A wise man (or woman) learns from his/h own experience. The wiser man (or woman) learns from the experiences of others.” One hundred twenty thousands households and individuals lost services from an 80 year old human service nonprofit. There is much to learn from the collapse of FEGS.

* https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/thought-leadership/what-we-learn-when-nonprofit-closes-its-doors

**https://www.blog.abila.com/nonprofit-fraud-facts-2016-global-fraud-study/

Preparing the Nonprofit for the Unexpected Crisis

Preparing the Nonprofit for the Unexpected Crisis

By: Eugene Fram      Free Digital Image

Nonprofit boards and management, large and small, can suddenly be subjected to the trauma of an event that will shake the organization to its roots! While I am sure that larger nonprofits like the Red Cross have crisis management plans in place. I have yet to encounter a mature mid-sized nonprofit that has even considered anything beyond a temporary replacement for the executive director should he/she is incapacitated.

Yet it’s essential that every board chair know what to do if the executive director calls at 3AM to report that the nonprofit facility is on fire! With about 16% of all fraud losses emanating from nonprofits, how should the board chair respond when a new auditing firm reports that the executive director has been using thousands of agency dollars for personal expense?

In either of these instances, the board chair and members must be prepared to step into leadership positions that are frequently out of their comfort zones. A plan to deal with a crisis of any sort should be in position and reviewed by board and management on an annual basis. Here are some suggested topics that need annual updating:  (more…)

Nonprofit Board Members—Are They Aware of Their Independent Director Duties?

Nonprofit Board Members—Are They Aware of Their Independent Director Duties?

By Eugene Fram     Free Digital Image

The vast majority of nonprofit board members serve as independent directors. They are not members of management, have other occupations as their major focus, but have some significant responsibilities to a community, profession, government or professional/trade association. Mary Jo White, Former Chair, U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, outlined the responsibilities of fund board members who also are independent directors to overview the investment dollars made by 53 million U.S. households. Many of her comments, in 2016, easily apply to nonprofit board members and their responsibilities as Independent directors. Note: The italicized materials following are White’s direct quotations. * (more…)

Can Nonprofit Management Usurp Board Responsibilities?

Can Nonprofit Management Usurp Board Responsibilities?

By Eugene H. Fram     Free Digital Image

On balance management will always have more information about the organization than volunteer board members. As a result, board members must be proactive in seeking information from management and a variety of other sources, even if they must involve employees other than senior management. Following are three field examples showing what has happened when boards failed to be proactive (more…)

Can Only Three Nonprofit Board Committees Engage Directors Meaningfully?

 

Can Only Three Nonprofit Board Committees Engage Directors Meaningfully?

By: Eugene Fram

Current research shows that the average nonprofit board has an average of 4.5 standing  committees, down from 6.6 in 1994. * I suggest three standing committees. ** This three-standing committee configuration is flexible. Its strength is that it generates a coordinated robust review of the past board experiences to drive an emphasis on policy development and strategic planning. Organizations know where they have been, are thinking about the future but are not mired in micromanagement

    A Policy/Strategy Focused Board

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Measuring Nonprofits’ Impacts: A Necessary Process for the 21st Century

Measuring Nonprofits’ Impacts: A Necessary Process for the 21st Century

By Eugene Fram   Free Digital Image

Nonprofit boards and CEOs in the United States are being overwhelmed with requests from foundations and governmental agencies to move from providing outcome data to providing impact data. One nonprofit with which I am well acquainted has been required to reform its IT program to meet the requirements of a local governmental IT program, so that impacts can be assessed. It will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out.

Unfortunately, outcomes and impact are often unrelated, which is why a program that seems to produce better outcomes may create no impact at all. Worse, sometimes they point in opposite directions, as can happen when a program works with harder-to- service populations resulting in seemingly worse conditions, but (has) higher value-added impact. … Rigorous evaluations can measure impact (to a level of statistical accuracy), but they are usually costly (a nonstarter for many nonprofit), difficult and slow. * But how do the medium and small size nonprofits measure actual results in the outside world such as enhanced quality of life, elevated artistic sensitivity and community commitment?

A Compromise Solution:

To close the gap, funders and recipients would need to agree to apply imperfect metrics over time. These are metrics that can be anecdotal, subjective or interpretative. Also they may rely on small samples, uncontrolled situational factors, or they cannot be precisely replicated. ** This would require agreement and trust between funders and recipients as to what level of imprecision can be accepted and perhaps be improved, to assess impacts. It is an experimental approach

How To Get to Impact Assessment:

1. Agree on relevant impacts: Metrics should be used to reflect organizational related impacts, not activities or efforts. Impacts should focus on a desired change in the nonprofit’s universe, rather than a set of process activities.
2. Agree on measurement approaches: These can range from personal interviews to comparisons of local results with national data.
3. Agree on specific indicators: Outside of available data, such as financial results, and membership numbers, nonprofits should designate behavioral impacts for clients should achieve. Do not add other indicators because they are easily developed or “would be interesting to examine.” Keep the focus on the agreed-upon behavioral outcomes.
4. Agree on judgment rules: Board and management need to agree at the outset upon the metric numbers for each specific indicator that contributes to the desired strategic objective. The rules can also specify values that are “too high” as well as “too low.”
5. Compare measurement outcomes with judgment rules to determine organizational impact: Determine how may specific program objectives have reached impact levels to assess whether or not the organization’s strategic impacts have been achieved.

Lean Experimentation

The five-point process described above closely follows the philosophy of lean experimentation, *** now suggested for profit making and nonprofit organizations.

Lean allows nonprofits to use imperfect metrics to obtain impact data from constituents/ stakeholders over time. Under a lean approach, as long as the organizations garners some positive insights after each iteration, it continues to improve the measurement venues and becomes more comfortable with the advantages and limitations of using these metrics.

Organizationally the nonprofit can use this process to drive change over time by better understanding what is behind the imperfect metrics, especially when a small sample can yield substantial insights, and actually improve the use of the metrics.

* http://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_promise_and_peril_of_an_outcomes_mindset
** https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2012/07/24/using-imperfect-metrics-well-tracking-progress-and-driving-change/
*** http://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_promise_of_lean_experimentation

Nonprofit & Business Directors Must Be Vigilant – Board Liability Costs Could Be $2.2 Million!

Nonprofit & Business Directors Must Be Vigilant – Board Liability Costs Could Be $2.2 Million!

By: Eugene Fram

The personal cost of director inattentiveness is made painfully clear in an important federal appeals court decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals decided the decision, in re Lemington Homes, on January 26, 2015 for the Third Circuit. … [T]hese difficult facts arose from a small, nonprofit organization. … (more…)