Board Culture

Can Small Experiments Test Nonprofit Strategic Validity?

Can Small Experiments Test Nonprofit Strategic Validity?

By: Eugene Fram        Free digital image

When given a series of potential mission changes, modifications or opportunities, most nonprofit boards take the following steps: (1) Discuss alternatives (2) Develop working plans, board/staff presentations and funding proposals (3) All three usually are packaged into a three or five year strategic plan for implementation. Typically the process can take about six months to “get all stakeholders on board.” When something new is suggested, the conservative board and nonprofit management immediately respond, “Great idea, let’s consider it in the new strategic plan.” Results: It can take three to five years to implement the idea, assuming the plan actually gets off the shelf, not an unusual occurrence for nonprofit organizations!
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The Nonprofit CEO–How Much Board-Trust Is Involved?

 

The Nonprofit CEO–How Much Board-CEO Trust Is Involved?

By; Eugene Fram   Free Digital Image

The title, CEO for the operating head of a nonprofit, clearly signals to the public who has the final authority in all operating matters and can speak for the organization.*  .

The CEO designation calls for an unwritten trusting contact with the board based on mutual respect, drawing from the symbolism that he or she is the manager of the operating link between board and staff. It is a partnership culture. However, a solid partnership does not allow the board to vacate its fiduciary and overview obligations. The board has moral and legal obligations to “trust but verify” and to conduct a rigorous annual evaluation of outcomes and impacts CEO has generated for the organization.

While the trust the board has in its chief operating officer can’t be described in exact quantitative terms, viewing it through the lens of a set of CEO and/or Board behaviors can give an idea that a significant level of trust is involved in the relationship.

Following are some of the behaviors that signify a trusting partnership is in place: (more…)

The Nonprofit CEO–How Much Board-CEO Trust Is Involved?

 

 

The Nonprofit CEO–How Much Board-CEO Trust Is Involved?

By; Eugene Fram   Free Digital Image

The title, CEO for the operating head of a nonprofit, clearly signals to the public who has the final authority in all operating matters and can speak for the organization.*  .

The CEO designation calls for an unwritten trusting contact with the board based on mutual respect, drawing from the symbolism that he or she is the manager of the operating link between board and staff. It is a partnership culture. However, a solid partnership does not allow the board to vacate its fiduciary and overview obligations. The board has moral and legal obligations to “trust but verify” and to conduct a rigorous annual evaluation of outcomes and impacts CEO has generated for the organization.

While the trust the board has in its chief operating officer can’t be described in exact quantitative terms, viewing it through the lens of a set of behaviors can give an idea of whether it is excellent, good or nonexistent.

Following are some of the behaviors that signify a trusting partnership is in place: (more…)

What Nonprofits Can Do To Maintain Liquidity

 

What Nonprofits Can Do To Maintain Liquidity

By: Eugene Fram    Free Digital Image

It doesn’t take a pandemic to make a nonprofit question its capacity to survive. Events such as a loss of major funding, a damaged reputation, huge unpredicted expenses could swiftly reduce the lifeblood of the organization, plunging the nonprofit into deep concern for its long-term survival.

Any nonprofit CEO has the data to predict how long the organization can stay afloat without income. This, however, would be only one rough measure of the nonprofit’s liquidity. Board members need to take the discussion further. They need to realistically appraise total liquidly from fixed/variable expenses and income venues as they relate to mission accomplishment. (more…)

Business Board Experts Offer Nonprofit Board Gems!!

   

By: Eugene Fram                                  Free Digital Image

The wise person learns from his/h own experiences. The wiser person learns from the experiences of others

The CEO Forum published an article covering the governance views of five business board members, known for their wisdom and vision.   Following are some of topics in the article that relate to nonprofit boards. *

Good governance is dependent upon well-curated boards. This means that nonprofit boards must look beyond the functional competencies (e.g. accounting, marketing, law, etc.) for candidates. Within these groupings, they need to seek candidates who have strategic outlooks, are comfortable with critical thinking and have documented leadership skills.   This requires recruiting and vetting efforts that go well beyond the friends, neighbors and colleagues who traditionally have been the sources for board positions. Also related is the issue of board succession, since that many will leave the board after a four to six year period. The current board(s) has an obligation to make rigorous recruiting and vetting become part of the nonprofit’s culture.

Assessing long-term sustainability. In the past, nonprofits have projected longevity because there will always be a need for the services or products they provide. This is no longer an assured proposition. Nonprofit day care centers now must compete with those that are for-profit. Improvements in medication have decreased the need for individual counseling and many new technologies can quickly solve problems that are embedded in the nonprofit’s mission.

Review governance best practices carefully! Know who is suggesting them and make certain they are appropriate for a specific organization. For example, some experts suggest that executive committees should be eliminated. However an executive committee that is responsible for a slim board committee structure can be effective in driving change and promoting better communications throughout the organization. **

Changing public accounting firms. Nonprofit accounting practice suggests changing public accounting firms about every five years. However one expert suggests, “It is important to ensure that judgment areas such as nonGAAP disclosures are well-defined, supporting calculations are well-documented and that the definitions and calculations are consistent across reporting periods.” At times of accounting firm change, nonprofit board members need to be able to add these issues to their question that they pose to management.

Ethics & Compliance. Like business organizations, nonprofits are subject to significant lapses in ethics and compliance. One study of  nonprofit fraud found that it 46% involved multiple perpetrators.  ***  As shown in the recent Wells Fargo debacle, establishing the tone for rigorous applications of a standard needs to start with the board and flow through all management levels. In the current environment, audit committees have to be especially alert and take immediate actions when red flags arise in either the ethics and/or compliance areas.   In my opinion, a nonprofit audit committee that meets only once or twice a year is not doing the necessary job.

Strategy. The nonprofit board has an obligation to help management see “around the next corner.” This involves board members assessing coming trends and sparking civil and meaningful board and committee discussions.

Board member comfort zones. Like their business counterparts, few nonprofit board members are “comfortable testing how to rock the norms.” It is easier to acculturate new directors to the current norms, a process that is inward bound and self-defeating. But a start can be initiated with questions such as, “If we were to start a new nonprofit across the street, what would it look like and who of the present board and a staff members would we ask to join us?

*https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertreiss/2017/05/22/americas-five-governance-experts-share-perspective-on-boards/#2a2ee326659a    

**For documentation see: https://goo.gl/QEL8x3

***https://nonprofitquarterly.org/nonprofit-fraud-its-a-people-problem-so-combat-it-with-governance/

 

Director Independence: a Nonprofit Board Issue?

 

Director Independence: a Nonprofit Board Issue?

By: Eugene Fram       Free Digital Photo

In the best of all nonprofit worlds, every board member is an independent agent whose ability to make critical decisions on behalf of the organization is regularly uncompromised by outside pressures. This, unfortunately, is not always the case. Based on field observation I have concluded that questionable practices can plague nonprofit boards when social or political pressures are brought to bear on a board member. In governance terms nonprofit decision-makers should be “outside directors,” not overtly or covertly susceptible to management or board colleague personal pressures.

Discerning recruitment committees can screen candidates to be certain they are not subject to influences that might impair their judgment as board members. Lack of independence could easily divide and perhaps polarize the board as has happened in our country’s Congress. A candidate who is “sponsored” by a major donor and maintains personal ties with the donor can create a “hornet’s nest” for the recruitment group. There are no easy solutions to these problems. (more…)

The Fantasy Nonprofit—Who Works There?

The Fantasy Nonprofit—Who Works There?

By: Eugene Fram                               Free Digital Photo

After three decades of immersion in the nonprofit culture, I occasionally allow myself to imagine what it would be like to start all over again. Assuming I were in the process of founding a new nonprofit I would have the authority to choose my own team! In this hypothetical, I could shape the mode of governance and select the participants I think would interface most effectively!

Here are some of the decisions I might make based on current realities:  (more…)

Nonprofit Board Cultures Need  To Be Defined

Nonprofit Board Cultures Need  To Be Defined

By: Eugene Fram     Free Digital Image

Over several decades of contacts with nonprofit boards, I have yet to encounter one that has spent any time trying to define the organization’s culture that delivers service. Yet every organization has one. It defines what the organization has done well and what needs to be changed. It can grow over years haphazardly or change quickly when new board members are elected or when a new CEO is appointed. Those newly appointed, for better or worse, can change the organization’s mission as well as its culture. Nonprofit staffs that work a few levels below the board and CEO organizationally are especially sensitive to cultural movements emanating from above. They know that a change in culture can affect their work and livelihood.

The reason that nonprofit boards rarely try to define the cultures of their organizations is that it is an amorphous subject. Ask a group of directors to define the culture of their board or the organization and quite different answers will be given. Yet there are commonalities that arise that can form the culture—conservative vs. liberal policies; legacy vs. future focused programs; operations are clearly defined vs. CEO dominance assumes board powers in a de facto manner; etc.  But cultures need to be defined:  Uber failed in the process, while  Microsoft has an ambition to transform Microsoft from  “a know it all” to a “learn it all culture” *

I located a list of 12 attributes of a strong organizational culture. **  Following are six that I suggest that nonprofit boards should consider in assessing their needs of the organizations. My comments provide some practical ways that each can apply to nonprofit boards and organizations. (more…)

Nonprofit Board Disruption—A Board Member’s Reflections

 

Nonprofit Board Disruption—A Board Member’s Reflections

By: Eugene Fram

 

A tsunami can suddenly erupt on a nonprofit board. Or, instead, dissension can smolder within the organization, and finally burst into flame. In any case, polarization of opinion can damage an organization unless skillfully managed. It can occur on many fronts: fraud, sharp division of opinion, staff morale or any number of issues. In turbulent times such as the Covid 19 environment, latent problems can swiftly escalate and create chaos.

Disruption on the Board can only be resolved with strong leadership. In most cases, the Board Chair (BC) assumes the responsibility of addressing the problem. In my 30+ years of board/consulting participation, I have had a number of opportunities to view nonprofit boards in trouble. In this post, I share some of the suggestions that have “worked” to resolve problems and help rebuild broken organizations.

When the BC has to accept the challenge of uprooting the problem, he/she is likely to be met with some resistance. Board members may resign from the board in anticipation of a substantial increase in meetings and time involved. Some may be concerned that their management reputation could be sullied or personal financial liabilities leveled by the IRS, the possibility of lawsuits.

If the BC is unable to persuade the distressed board members that their expertise is needed to achieve the nonprofit’s mission, and has made them aware of the Directors & Officers’ Insurance policy which will protect them from financial liability, it will be difficult to recruit new people in this period of instability.

However, the BC can ask former board members to return for another term or two. In one case, a human service organization persuaded a board member about to be termed out to stay for another two years. He happened to be a senior vice president of a listed firm–and a valuable asset to the nonprofit.   He accepted the offer to stay and agreed to become BC of the weakened organization. During his extended tenure, he successfully recruited some former members dedicated to the organization’s mission. (more…)

21st Century Nonprofit Boards Need to be Proactive in Strategy Development

21st Century Nonprofit Boards Need to be Proactive in Strategy Development

By: Eugene Fram        Free Digital Image

Most Boards do not excel at strategy planning. In fact, when the subject is included on a meeting agenda, it usually produces a general lack of enthusiasm. A McKinsey study * cited weakness in for-profit boards dealing with the topic. And in my opinion, similar deficits are endemic to nonprofit boards whose response to strategic proposals is often simply– “ to review and approve.”

What causes these vital governing bodies to be passive when the future of the organization is obviously at stake? First, most nonprofit boards meet between 8 and 12 times a year, for what averages to about 1.5 hours monthly. With an agenda crammed with compliance issues and staff reports, there is little time left for board members to dive deeply into a discussion of future transformative efforts on behalf of the organization. When a new strategic plan is developed (that may only occur once every 3-5 years, with a limited perpsective), its implementation is not as rigorous as it should be—even in high performing boards. (more…)