Board agendas

The “Complaint” Nonprofit Board—A CEO Takes Charge Like a Founder!

The “Compliant” Nonprofit Board—A CEO Takes Charge Like a Founder!

By Eugene Fram              Free Digital Image

According to BoardSource, “ Founderitis’ and ‘founder’s syndrome’ are terms often used to describe a founder’s resistance to change. When founderitis surfaces, the source of the dilemma often is a founder’s misunderstanding of his or her role in an evolving organization.” * I would like to suggest that a nonprofit CEO also might suffer from the “founderitis illness,” sometimes with the board only being mildly or completely unaware of it. (more…)

Good News for Nonprofit Board Members & CEOs—Examples From The Behvorial Sciences

Good News for Nonprofit Board Members & CEOs—Examples From The Behvorial Sciences

By Eugene Fram             Fee Digital Image

Behavioral economics, finance and marketing apparently are making significant strides in helping nonprofits to understand how to maximize their development efforts. Following are three studies that appear to have significant nonprofit interest.

(http://www.behaviouralinsights.co.uk/bx2015/rounding-up-the-latest-insights-from-behavioural-exchange-2016/(more…)

Nonprofits in Limbo: Preparing for the Unexpected

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Nonprofits in Limbo: Preparing for the Unexpected

By: Eugene Fram          Free Digital Image

 I happened to read a report from Deloitte Consulting suggesting ways that for-profit organizations can improve their performance in uncertain times. The report centers on key drivers of board effectiveness that, in my opinion, resonate with similar nonprofit situations. *  Most nonprofit boards typically live with uncertainty and are perennially “on the edge.” 

  • Conservative leadership: Nonprofit boards are responsible for donor and charitable types of revenues that place directors in a public trust position. In addition board members typically will only be active for a median tenure period of four to six years. As a result they often become overly conservative in their strategic views and may accept CEOs that “mind-the-store” with modest incremental growth annually.

          To prevent the organizational boat from capsizing in the perpetual seas of the           
           pandemic and beyond, the board needs to rely on the best forward looking
           information about strategy, people, culture and clients.
           All of this must be in solid alignment with a substantial mission,  or a modified one if 
           the external environment requires it.
           This allows the nonprofit to cut through the barriers that impede strategy     
           development.           

  • Opportunities & Strategies: Even when the organization is prospering, the board has a responsibility to press for innovations and to support small-scale experiments as called for in a “Lean Management” structure. Within this structure, the staff can test the waters via experiments to move more boldly, as long as the experiments yield positive results. ** At a minimum, the the board and management, need to focus on near-term planning during the pandemic period.  They then need to move to a “north star” approach, with a ten year framework, once the pandemic recedes. This requires management to balance the needs of the various client groups that can call for heartbreaking decisions. For example, should revenues be allocated to marketing or used for client programs? 
  • Match fit: Boards have a responsibility to motivate the nonprofit to realistically evaluate the tensions between new models and existing ones, for example between face-to-face meetings and virtual ones. It is already clear the virtual format has caught the attentions of nonprofits. If nonprofits plan to rely on virtual meeting to a significant extent, board and managements will need to improve  their technologies, presentations and develop better ways for participants to become involved in discussions. 
  • Culture, culture, and culture: As Peter Drucker has noted, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast every morning,”  Nonprofit boards’ cultures play a key role in determining the level of risk the board is willing to take. With key drivers, nonprofit boards will have to take reasonable risks to survive the impacts of the pandemic,  and work with management to take some crafted entrepreneurial risks. It now appears that fund raising, for example, will emphasize greater focus on major donors, and board members will need to provide more time and effort  
  • Diversity and inclusion:  Board diversity is a well established need.  Inclusion not only means differences by demographics but recruiting new board members and maximizing the best they have to offer.   Nonprofit boards traditionally try to acculturate new board members to the current culture instead of maximizing their potentials. For example, a person with financial strategy and accounting backgrounds will be asked to work with the CFO on accounting related problems because this has been the prior process. Instead, he/s should be asked to develop a long term-term financial plan.  This should be more meaningful work for the new board member and of significant benefit to the organization. 
  • Meeting format:  For the thousands of nonprofits that have had to suddenly change meeting format from face-to-face to a virtual format,  it is time to consider what is best for the organization post-Covid.  Can the board, management and staff be productive working from home? Will a virtual-face-to-face process be acceptable in terms of productivity and client satisfaction?  How can productivity be assessed under the virtual format?     
  • Curiosity is Key: To keep a nonprofit sustainable in the long term beyond the pandemic, Deloitte Consulting concludes, “Directors should get out of the ‘same old’ board room, and should even look across borders to learn from approaches in (different nonprofits) and companies… . Developing news skills and insights are essential for innovation and should be sought to create the questioning and challenging environment needed to imagine, inspire and deliver better outcomes (and impacts). Complacency (in uncertain times) can be a killer.”*

*https://www.google.com/search?q=Sevn+ways+to+im%5Bprove+board+effectivness+in+uncertgain+times&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=Seven+ways+to+improve+board+effectiveness+in+uncertain+times

**https://npengage.com/nonprofit-management/lean-implementation/

 

Is there truth in the statement that ALL nonprofits are actually businesses, and they need to be run like businesses?

Is there truth in the statement that ALL nonprofits are actually businesses, and they need to be run like businesses?

By Eugene Fram                Free Digital Image 

In my opinion, too many board and staff members in the nonprofit environment:

Do not realize that a nonprofit can focus even more effectively on “caring” missions, visions and values while operating under a business model. Many functions of a business and are the same for both types of organizations — financial operations, human resources, marketing, board governance, etc.

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Reversing Traditional Nonprofit Board Barriers

Reversing Traditional Nonprofit Board Barriers

By: Eugene Fram          Free Digital Photo

Clearly the purpose of a nonprofit board is to serve the constituency that establishes it—be it community, industry, governmental unit and the like. That said, the “how” to best deliver that service is often not so clear. An executive committee, for example, can overstep its authority by assuming powers beyond its scope of responsibility. I encountered this in one executive committee when the group developed a strategic plan in an interim period where there was no permanent ED. The board then refused to share it with the incoming executive. In another instance, an executive committee took it upon itself to appoint members of the audit committee—including outsiders who were unknown to the majority on the board.

The fuzziness of boundaries and lack of defined authority call for an active nonprofit system of checks and balances. For a variety of reasons this is difficult for nonprofits to achieve:

  • A typical nonprofit board member is often recruited from a pool of friends, relatives and colleagues, and will serve, on a median average, for four to six years.   This makes it difficult to achieve rigorous debate at meetings (why risk conflicts with board colleagues?). Directors also are not as eager to thoughtfully plan for change beyond the limits of their terms. Besides discussing day-to-day issues, the board needs to make sure that immediate gains do not hamper long-term sustainability.
  • The culture of micromanagement is frequently a remnant from the early startup years when board members may have performed operational duties. In some boards it becomes embedded in the culture and continues to pervade the governmental environment, allowing the board and executive committee to involve themselves in areas that should be delegated to management.
  • The executive team is a broad partnership of peers –board members, those appointed to the executive committee and the CEO. The executive committee is legally responsible to act for the board between meetings–the board must ratify its decisions. But unchecked, the executive committee can assume dictatorial powers whose conclusions must be rubber-stamped by the board.

Mitigating Oversight Barriers: There is often little individual board members can do to change the course when the DNA has become embedded in the organization. The tradition of micromanagement, for example, is hard to reverse, especially when the culture is continually supported by a succession of like-minded board chairs and CEOs. No single board member can move these barriers given the brevity of the board terms. But there are a few initiatives that three or four directors, working in tandem, can take to move the organization into a high-performance category.

  • Meetings: At the top of every meeting agenda there needs to be listed at least one policy or strategy topic. When the board discussion begins to wander, the chair should remind the group that they are encroaching on an area that is management’s responsibility. One board I observed wasted an hour’s time because the chair had failed to intercept the conversation in this manner. Another board agreed to change its timing of a major development event, then spent valuable meeting time suggesting formats for the new event—clearly a management responsibility to develop.
  • “New Age” Board Members: While millennial directors may be causing consternation in some legacy-bound nonprofit and business organizations, certain changes in nonprofits are noteworthy. Those board members in the 40- and- under age bracket need some targeted nurturing. I encountered a new young person who energized the board with her eagerness to try to innovative development approaches. She was subsequently appointed to the executive committee, deepening her view of the organization and primed her for board chair leadership.

Board members who understand the robust responsibilities of a 21st century board need to accept responsibilities for mentoring these new age board people, despite their addictions to electronic devices.

  • Experienced Board Members: Board members who have served on other high-performance boards have the advantage of being familiar with modern governance processes and are comfortable in supporting change. They are needed to help boards, executive committees and CEOs to move beyond the comfortable bounds of the past. They will be difficult to recruit, but they are required ingredients for successful boards.
  • NEW Projects: Boards and the CEO must be bold and try new approaches to meet client needs. For example instead of going through a complete planning process for a new program the board must ask management to complete a series of small experiments to test the program. When a series of results are positive, the nonprofit can work on a plan to implement the program.

Conclusion: Individual board members working alone will probably become frustrated in trying to contend with the three overview barriers discussed. But working with three or four colleagues, over time, on a tandem basis, they can make inroads on the barriers. Meetings can become more focused on policies/strategies, new age board members can become more quickly productive, experienced board members can become role models and new programs and other projects can be more quickly imitated via the use of small scale experiments.

How Do Nonprofit Boards Keep Stakeholders Engaged?

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How Do Nonprofit Boards Keep Stakeholders Engaged?

By: Eugene Fram                       Free Digital Photo

First, exactly who are the “stakeholders” in the nonprofit environment? Most board members would readily define the term as clients, staff, donors and board members. But what about other participants such as external auditors and significant vendors? Surely a nonprofit that depends on a vendor to supply groceries can be hobbled if the food is not delivered properly. And, last but not least, the backbone of the organization — the volunteers! Many cogs in the wheel make the nonprofit world go around and need consistent and careful attention. Following are some guidelines for engaging all types of stakeholders:

  • Don’t marginalize, dismiss, or ignore a stakeholder: Unfortunately, for example, termed-out board members * are often dismissed in more than one sense of the word. After serving the typical tenure of four to six years, the retired board members may only receive boilerplate materials or fund solicitations. Any residual interest or enthusiasm for the nonprofit is not encouraged unless the retiree initiates a desire to remain connected. The assumption is that the past board members are content with the disconnect.

For those board members who have been active participants during their term, this tactic may actually be counterproductive from many points of view—talent, expertise and development possibilities. I have observed several cases in which this unintended marginalization has resulted in losing substantial financial support and needed talent. In each case,  the retirees have declined to help, using the excuse that they have been too far away from the activities of the organization. Boards must be creative in finding ways of reigniting the former directors’ commitment to the organization’s mission. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways—in an advisory capacity, forming “alumni” groups and/or by including them in social events and other occasions.

  • Recognize who may be a true partner: Such a partner can range from a vendor that has supplied the organization or a volunteer whose interests have moved to another nonprofit to a legacy board member who has developed new insights.  “It is generally easier to build consensus, request help and engender trust when those who support you are well-informed, candidly and truthfully.” **
  • Stakeholders must know about the nonprofit’s challenges and needs: Even the best-managed nonprofits have their ups and downs. During the latter periods, educating stakeholders about the issues can help to dissuade some to avoid posting job cuts and other actions.
  • Selfperpetuating boards can became insular and lose touch with other stakeholders: “These boards tend to retreat into a silo-or bunker-mentality that only serves to intensify bad habits and practices, as well as preclude consideration of other perspectives.” ** At difficult times, the board can tend to lose trust in the ED even when the problem is beyond the EDs control. If the board is at fault, it may look for a scapegoat on which to hang the root cause of the problem, often people in senior management.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eugene-fram/how-does-your-nonprofit-r_b_5393736.html

** https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-sweet-briar-reminded-us-alumni-engagement-mark-w-jones

A Special Relationship: Nurturing the CEO-Board Chair Bond

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A Special Relationship: Nurturing the CEO-Board Chair Bond

By Eugene Fram              Free Digital Photo

Viewer Favorite – Updated & Revised

Here are tips to assure the best possible partnership between the board chair and CEO.

Keeping boards focused on strategic issues is a major challenge for nonprofit leaders.  This leadership crisis is intensified by the fact that board chairs tend to have short terms (according to BoardSource, 83% stay in office only one or two years). Thus, nonprofit CEOs  and board chairs need to bond quickly. For the good of the organization, they must come together swiftly and create a partnership that works. Here are golden rules for the CEO and board chair to follow:

1. Be sure the CEO and board chair share strategic issues with each other—negative as well as positive ones. A failure by either the chair or CEO to share information, such as a potential cash flow issue, can be disastrous for the nonprofit.

2. It’s critical for the CEO to conduct orientation sessions with a new chair, explaining the challenges facing the nonprofit, and reviewing the fundamentals of the mission. The CEO can help the chair keep the board focused on strategic issues, whether they’re programmatic or financial.  With many nonprofits electing a new president each year, the CEO needs to prioritize these tasks.

3. Make sure staff know who has the final say. Some employees mistakenly view the board chair as the ultimate authority, even when the organizational table lists the CEO as holding that position. As a result, they may try an end run around the CEO, asking the board to overturn the CEO’s decision about salaries, promotions, or programs, for example. Both the CEO and board chair must emphasize the fact that the CEO is the final authority. If they make this message clear enough, they can probably keep staff from attempting any end runs. If an end run still occurs, the board chair must refer the issue to the CEO for resolution, except if the CEO is being charged with malfeasance.

4. The CEO should arrange for individual board members to meet with management staff on occasion so that the board can gather information about how the organization is operated and obtain an understanding of the promotional abilities of managers. The Sarbanes-Oxley act (a federal statute relating to public corporation boards) recommends this process for for-profit boards, and it’s also a good one for nonprofit board members.

5. Give staff members opportunities to participate in strategic planning and to support board committees. The board chair and CEO should work together to arrange such board-staff interactions, including joint celebrations of organizational success.

6. The CEO and board chair need to agree on the use of ad hoc board committees or task forces and their relationship to standing committees. For example, should the HR/personnel committee be a standing one or only an ad hoc one to address major personnel policies? In the 21st century, a board should only have maximum of five standing committees, many can only have three.  If task forces are used to provide provide options for occasional policy issues, for example pension plan changes, there may be little need for a standing board HR/personnel committee.

7. The board chair and CEO should be the active leaders in fundraising efforts, with the CEO as administrative leader. The board chair and other board members must provide the CEO entrée to funding sources. They often need to accompany the CEO on fundraising visits. The CEO should keep the board chair informed of all entrepreneurial development activities being explored.

8. The board has only one major employment decision to make – to recruit and hire the CEO. It’s usually a long and exhausting process. But once it’s completed, the employment of all other staff personnel is the responsibility of the CEO and the CEO’s management team. For senior positions, most CEOs ask their chairs and/or other board members to meet with candidates, but the ultimate responsibility remains with the CEO.  The board also has a responsibility to overview staffing to make certain that adequate bench-strength in in place for succession placements,  at the CEO and the senior management

9. When hiring a CEO, or soon after employment, the board chair and CEO must face a stark reality—the need for emergency leadership should the CEO become temporarily incapacitated. These plans can either be established informally by the chair-CEO partnership or more formally via board resolution. The following are possible interim CEOs: a senior manager in the organization, a semi-retired experienced CEO living near headquarters, a consultant living in a neighboring city. CEO succession planning is an important issue for the partnership should the CEO decides to leave or retire.

10. The CEO can be helpful to the board chair in recruiting new board members by suggesting possible volunteer candidates or other contacts who have demonstrated an interest in the organization’s mission, vision, and values. Board candidates will want to meet with the CEO as part of the interview process. As a result, the two partners must agree on how to present the organization to board candidates.

11. The chair and CEO need to lead in establishing meeting agendas. The two partners must work together to assure there’s sufficient meeting time to discuss and resolve strategic issue While many nonprofits call their top executive the “executive director,” the term CEO or president/CEO is a more leader-focused.

12. For the current environment, board members should be ready and willing to be ready to involved in a heightened level of board activity.   If not, the board chair and board member should determine what constraints the member needs to be in place for his/h activity.

 

 

Errors That Can Cloud Nonprofit Board’s Decision Making–Tread With Care

Errors That Can Cloud Nonprofit Board’s Decision Making–Tread With Care

By Eugene Fram            Free Digital Image

In this age of information overload, nonprofits need to continually scrutinize the quality and source of the material received in preparation for major decisions. Since directors often come without broad enough experience in the nonprofit’s mission arena, they may not be prepared to properly assess its progress in moving forward–and not equipped to make relevant comparisons with similar nonprofits.  In addition, naive or unscrupulous CEOs and highly influential directors may inundate their boards with information and data as a  distraction tactic to keep them busy in the “weeds,” reviewing what has been presented.  Board members need to avoid donning “rose-colored glasses” when assessing proposals from these sources.

I once encountered a nonprofit whose board was about to acquire a for-profit organization, headed by its founder.  Pushing for the “deal” were the nonprofit’s CEO and an influential board member who were not, it turned out, capable of the due diligence needed for a project of this complexity. But the board approved the acquisition without sufficient review.  When the acquisition was consummated, the founding CEO of the subsidiary refused to take directions from the CEO of the nonprofit. In addition, the normal financial settlement of the project requires that a portion of the price be withheld, in escrow, pending adequate performance.  In this instance, the nonprofit paid cash for the acquisition.  Based on  a lack of performance, the operation was finally closed with a substantial loss. (more…)

Nonprofit Boardroom Elephants and the ‘Nice Guy’ Syndrome: An Evergreen Board Problem?

Nonprofit Boardroom Elephants and the ‘Nice Guy’ Syndrome: An Evergreen Board Problem?

By: Eugene Fram    Free Digital Image

Reposting a Viewer Favorite–Best Holiday Wishes to All My Subscribers

At coffee a friend serving on a nonprofit board reported plans to resign from the board shortly. His complaints centered on the board’s unwillingness to take critical actions necessary to help the organization grow.

In specific, the board failed to take any action to remove a board member who wasn’t attending meetings, but he refused to resign. His three-year term had another 18 months to go, and the board had a bylaws obligation to summarily remove him from the board. However, a majority of directors decided such action would hurt the board member’s feelings. They were unwittingly accepting the “nice-guy” approach in place of taking professional action.

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When Nonprofit Missions Get Muddled

 

 

When Nonprofit Missions Get Muddled

By: Eugene Fram   Free Digital Image

It happens over time. A passionately conceived mission starts to drift from its original intentions. Stakeholders begin to view a nonprofit’s purposes from a different angle. There is a discrepancy between how the organization is committed to act and external perceptions of its current actions. Nonprofit boards need to be on the alert to such misalignments that can go unnoticed in the perceptual “fog” of daily challenges. It can limp along for years without acknowledging the impact of the client reality by which the nonprofit is being judged.   

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