board self assessment

Can Nonprofit Boards Strategically Reinvent Themselves?

Can Nonprofit Boards Strategically Reinvent Themselves?

By: Eugene Fram      Free Digital Image

Not many nonprofit boards look to strategic renewal/reinventing as viable options. Dedicated to a specific mission, boards may merge with related organizations as their prospects decline or simply declare victory. March Of Dimes has been a classic case of redefining its mission when The Salk Vaccine limited widespread polio epidemics. Today, the nonprofit’s programs serve people with disabilities: children, adults, seniors, military personnel and veterans.

Basic Motivation Problems

Board Turnover & Leadership – According to the 2015 BoardSource report, Leading with Intent, “ Board leadership is not a lifetime commitment, with boards chairs and other officers being subject to term limits.” In the study, sixty-nine percent of board chairs only had terms of one or two years, not a great deal of time to lead strategic changes.

Numbers of clients are declining and/or the opportunities for growth are limited — Those offering psychological counseling services have faced declining client populations for a number of years, as new medications have become more useful. Some have combined with other nonprofits offering a wide range of human services while others have closed. A few of the nonprofits might have survived if they had anticipated the potential impact and had developed viable services, for example, offering counseling services to private or public school systems.

Need But No Market – In the human services arenas, there are always fundamental needs on which to base a mission. Working within a structure where the clients for the nonprofit’s service are not the funders, these needs are often unmet. Example: Early childhood education is a well-known need, but securing sufficient funding remains a significant barrier to delivering the services.

Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Renewal – An Underused Option http://bit.ly/1mQKMGi

1. Select growth applications that connect with people emotionally. – The Easter Seals renewal focused on people with physical disabilities and special needs, a natural outgrowth of working with polo victims. The nonprofit organization was well aware of the emotional reactions and public appeals that resonated with the mission focused staff and volunteers.

Anticipated success can also be a motivator for staff and volunteers. The ALS Ice Bucket campaign in 2014 is an example of drawing attention to a challenge through a gimmick with a substantial emotional appeal. It provided significant additional funding that enabled the organization to rethink its research prowess. Whether or not the appeal can continue to be utilized in coming years remains to be seen. At the least, it is added evidence to the power of emotional appeals to generate the potential for strategic renewal.

2. Treat strategy as a dialogue as opposed to a ritualistic, documented-based planning process. – Strategic renewal in the nonprofit environment often occurs under crisis conditions. Consequently, starting with a ritualistic strengths and weakness analysis is not the way to begin strategic planning at these times – complete decline is probably at hand. The issue has to be what resources can be salvaged from the current mission to enhance the new one.

If the strategic process is one that is reviewed every three to five years, every nonprofit organization should be honest about answering this generic question or similar ones: Who would miss our organization if we ceased to exist? Broad considerations of the responses and subsequently investigation can lead to open discussions to consider future opportunities for strategic renewal. As noted before, there are many new missions to address unmet human needs.

3. Use experiments to explore future possibilities. – Nonprofit organizations often shy away from using financial and human resource assets for experimentation. A field ethic that prevents a nonprofit from experimenting is an unrelenting focus on directing resources to current client services. Where strategic renewal is required, or seen as an opportunity, outside funding needs to be developed, except when the organization has unusual reserves available for experimentation.

4. Engage (external and internal) leadership (communities) in the work of renewal. – “Successful strategic renewals … need to be broadly based so they can engage managers (and staffs) … in the organization. Creating (internal and external) leadership communities around the renewal project allows (board) leaders to learn about the future by doing and win over potential resisters.” The support of the chief operating officer is critical. If he/s is not behind the renewal, the board will have to make a forced change or wait until a planned succession takes place.

 

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The Nonprofit Dream Team: a Board/CEO Partnership that Works!

The Nonprofit Dream Team: a Board/CEO Partnership that Works!

By: Eugene H. Fram    Free Digital Image

Re-balancing 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 recently encountered an association CEO who complained that his board wanted 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 the two 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, he stated, it gives it a personal political type of power, 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 had been a change in the internal board dynamics. (more…)

Once Again: How Should Nonprofits Conduct Board Evaluations?

Once Again: How Should Nonprofits Conduct Board Evaluations?

By: Eugene Fram

Recent (2017) 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. (more…)

Developing Meaningful Relationships Within Nonprofit Boards

Developing Meaningful Relationships Within Nonprofit Boards

By: Eugene Fram

For several decades, I have suggested that nonprofit Board Chairs and CEOs have a responsibility to be sure that each board member perceives his/h continuing relationship as being meaningful. Following are some organizational guidelines that can assist Board Chairs and CEOs in this effort.*

  1. Developing or hiring strong executive leadership: Obviously when hiring externally it is necessary to engage a person with a managerial background. But many nonprofit CEOs can be appointed after years of being an individual contributor or leading a small department. These experiences condition them to do too much themselves, rather than to assume a strong management posture. This involves focusing more on strategy, on talent development, interacting more with the board/community and creating a long-term vision.

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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