Once Again: How Should Nonprofits Conduct Board Evaluations?
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
Data from BoardSource show that only about 58% of boards have had “formal, written self-assessment of board performance at some point. Only 40% of all boards have done an assessment in the past two Years,” a recommended practice. With the rapid turnover of directors that nonprofit boards traditionally experience, this seems inexcusable. As a “veteran” nonprofit director, following is what I think can be done to improve the situation.
A blog developed by an internationally known board expert* raises some pertinent governance questions mainly targeted to for-profit boards. Following are my suggestions how these questions could apply to nonprofit and trustee boards. In addition, field examples show what happened when the questions had to be raised in crises situations.
Does bad news rise in your organization? “You may be the last to know.” For example, the board of a human services organization knew that the professional staff was not happy with a new ED with an authoritarian management style, but the board felt it needed to give him a chance to modify his style. Board members didn’t know that the staff professionals had been meeting with a union organizer for nine months. A labor election resulted, with the professional staff agreeing to work under a trade union contract.
Do your CEO & CFO have integrity? “If the CEO or CFO holds back, funnel information, manages agendas, is defensive or plays…. cards too close to the, vest, this is a warming sign.” For example, a CFO was delinquent in submitting a supplementary accounts receivable financial report. The board and CEO accepted his excuses, but the data, when submitted, had a significant negative impact on the financials. Both the CEO and CFO lost their positions. Should the board have also accepted some responsibility for the crisis?
Do you understand the (mission) and add value? The board members need to seriously answer this question: If this organization were to disappear tomorrow, who would care?
Do you know how fraud can occur in your (nonprofit)? Common wisdom prevails that there is little for-profit or nonprofit boards can do avoid fraud. To review nonprofit boards actions that can be taken, especially for medium and small size nonprofit boards, see; Eugene Fram & Bruce Oliver (2010) “Want to Avoid Fraud? Look to your Board,” Nonprofit World, September/October, pp.18-19.
Do you compensate the right behaviors? “You are at the helm as board members. Whatever you compensate, management will do.” Be certain the organization is compensating for outcomes and,more importantly, today impacts. Too often compensation is given for completing processes that are not tied to client impacts
Do you get disconfirming information? Management is only one source of information. With the agreement of management, visit privately with people below the management level. Set a Google Alert for the name of the organization to see what others on the Internet are saying about your nonprofit’s relationships.
Do you get exposures to key (operational areas) and assurance functions? “Bring key people into the boardroom, without Power Points. See how they think on their feet. It is good for succession planning and is an excellent source of information.”
Do you get good advice and stay current? “Bring tailored education into the board room and stay on top of emerging developments. “ This is especially important for the nonprofit directors or trustees who serves on a board that is out of their area of expertise. For example, bankers might serve on a hospital boards.
Do you meet with (stakeholders) – apart from management? Board members need to join with management in meeting key funders occasionally to determine if their expectations are fully met and what the board might do to foster a continuing relationship. This lets funders know that the board is involved over-viewing the organization’s outcomes and impacts.
*Richard Leblanc, “The Board’s Right to Know and Red Flags To Avoid When You Don’t.” http://www.boardexpert.com/blog, September 14, 2012 Note: Bold & quoted items are from the above blog.
Too Much Information 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 board members 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 accepted their work without question. When the acquisition was consummated, the founding CEO of the subsidiary refused to take directions from the CEO of the nonprofit. In addition, although the normal financial settlement of the project requires that a portion of the price be withheld pending adequate performance, the nonprofit had paid cash for the acquisition. Based on a lack of performance, the operation was finally closed with a substantial loss.
Falling in Love With the Mission & Other Sage Advice for First Time Nonprofit Board Members
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
Sam Smith recently entered early retirement and wants to become a director on the board of a nonprofit organization. His motive is to give back to the community where he has prospered. As a first time board member, he can look to some advice from pros in the area, from an article by Stanford’s Center Social Innovation (CSI). http://stanford.io/1qefmx1
Following are my reactions to some of the article’s suggestions, hopefully adding important field information. My comments are based on having served on 12 nonprofit boards over several decades and my experiences as a consultant to at least a dozen additional nonprofit boards.
Viewers may question my taking time to develop this post when a Google search, using the above title, shows about 302 million listings recorded in 0.63 of second! The answer is that I located a board article with a few interesting insights, relating to for-profit boards, that also can be useful to the selection of nonprofit directors. * Following are some of the unusual ideas.
Nonprofit Board Members Have The Potential To Become Great Ambassadors!
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
There is no shortage of able communicators on most nonprofit boards. Board members usually bring a degree of passion, purpose and special abilities to their term of service. Many come from business or professional environments that require at least a measure of experience in advocacy, often referred to as “selling” an idea or product!
But rarely do Board Chairs and CEOs avail themselves of the opportunity to develop nonprofit board members as fully functioning ambassadors for the organization. With a constantly rotating board and emerging crises, it becomes difficult to find the time and energy to coach board members in the art of putting the organization’s public face on view. In some cases the CEO simply doesn’t encourage contact between the board and staff. At other times, they fail to include selected board members in important conversations with key public figures and/or major donors or foundation executives. Such omissions represent a major talent loss in the advocacy process.
Once Again: How to Keep a Nonprofit Board Informed.
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
With high performing nonprofit boards, its members will rarely be invited by the CEO to participate in operational decisions. As a result, management will always have more information than the board. Yet the board still needs to know what is happening in operations to be able to overview them. The name of the game is for the CEO to communicate the important information and to keep directors informed of significant developments. Still, there’s no need to clutter regular board meetings by reporting endless details about operations.
The Nonprofit Dream Team: a Board/CEO Partnership that Works!
By: Eugene H. Fram Free Digital Image
Rebalancing and maintaining important relationships in a nonprofit organization can be important to its success. Do various players fully understand and accept their specific roles? Is there mutual trust between players? Are communications open and civil?
I encountered an association CEO who complained that his board wants to judge him without establishing mutually agreeable goals, outcomes or impacts. He felt what is needed is a partnership arrangement where the board does not judge the CEO and organization based on political or personal biases but overviews performance in terms of mutually accepted achievements. This, he contended, forms a substantial partnership between board and CEO and staff. If the board thinks it can judge management without these measures he stated, it generates a personal political type of evaluation unrelated to performance. As an example he pointed to an unfortunately common nonprofit situation where a CEO is given an excellent review and fired six months later because there has been a change in the internal board dynamics.
“Ideally, change takes place only when is “a critical mass of board and staff want … it. A significant … portion of leadership must realize that the status quo won’t do” * Based on my experiences, this ideal is rarely achieved because:
The CEO needs to support the changes being suggested and/or mandated by a majority of the board. But, if not fully invested in the change, he/s can accede to board wishes for action but move slowly in their implementations. The usual excuse for slow movement is budget constraint.
How do people see your organization? Is your nonprofit clearly perceived, and the unique nature of its work, fully understood in the community or industry?
Nonprofit board members occasionally talk about the organizational brand image but rarely take tangible steps to define it. Yet the creation of a strong brand is a major factor in generating public respect, support and significant funding sources. Potential donors need to believe implicitly in the impact of the nonprofit on its clients. They also need to understand the realities implied in the brand image that fail to match the realities of the organization’s operations. For example, some family services agencies (actually multi-human service groups), have long struggled with a brand perception that they offer only family reproduction services.
Following are some guidelines that may help improve a current image or further clarify the mission which fuels the dedicated efforts of boards, staff and volunteers: