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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…)

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…)

The Devil’s Advocate on a Nonprofit Board: Asset or Liability?

The Devil’s Advocate on a Nonprofit Board: Asset or Liability?

By: Eugene Fram              Free Digital Image

An unwritten rule for nonprofit board membership is that it is best to “go along to get along.” But sometimes a nonprofit director’s “no” vote to an action that has had inadequate discussion can allow him/h to avoid tax penalties that have been levied on other board members for lack of due care.

Stanford University research results indicate that groups with a lone minority dissenter outperform other groups where all members agree. In addition, these groups…”are more successful than (groups) in which all members disagree and fall prey to escalated emotional, difficult-to resolve (group) brawls “ *

The key to success, according to these data, is to,” … have a devil’s advocate (DA) on the nonprofit board. … This is a person or a small board minority that “has the sensitivity to see the differences, perceives them as conflict, and then communicates about the differences in non-confrontational ways.” **

(more…)

Once Again! Should a Nonprofit CEO Be a Voting Member of the Board of Directors?   

Once Again! Should a Nonprofit CEO Be a Voting Member of the Board of Directors?

BoardSource, a professional governance organization, reports that this question is one of the most asked. Google reports about eight million citations, in a brief .52 second search, related to the issue or related issues. The question continues to be debated, and the need for comment and opinion seems insatiable.

But here are the issues as I see them:

State Legislation: Most nonprofit charters are issued by states, and it appears that the vast majority of American nonprofits are governed by these regulations. California permits the CEO to be a voting member. Until a recent change, New York did allow the CEO to become a board member. The motivations behind the legislation center on preventing a CEO developing conflicts-of interest, especially as they relate to salary decisions. Also, there is a feeling among some nonprofit directors that the board must be the “boss.” This attitude can even go as far as one nonprofit board member’s comment: “We have a real board, we tell the CEO exactly what to do.”

It appears that the restriction is considered a “best practice.” Some nonprofits move around it by naming the CEO an ex-official member of the board, a member without a vote. However, there is a “better practice,” available where permitted by legislation.

Developing An Even Better Practice in a Nonprofit

Start At The Top: Allow the CEO to hold the title of President/CEO and allow the senior volunteer to become Board Chair. This signals to staff and public that the board has full faith in the CEO as a professional manager. In addition, the change absolves the senior volunteer of potential financial liability, not unlike the volunteer who unwittingly received a $200,000 bill from the IRS because it appeared he had strong control of a bankrupt nonprofit’s finances and operations.

Ask The CEO: Make certain the CEO is willing and able to accept full responsibility for operations. Not all CEOs, designated as Executive Directors, want the increased responsibilities attached to such a title and to become a board member. These managers frequently feel comfortable with having the board micromanage operations and often openly discuss their reservations.

The CEO Becomes A Communications Nexus: Under the CEO’s guidance, board-staff contact takes place on task forces, strategic planning projects, at board orientations and at organization celebrations. It openly discourages the staff making “end runs” to board members, not a small problem in community-focused nonprofits

Brand Image: As a board director, the CEO can be more active in fund development. The board position and the title can easily help the CEO to build the organization’s public brand image through the clear public perceptions of the board’s choice to lead the organization. This provides leverage to make greater use of the board-CEO relationship required to develop funds. It can allow the CEO to be the spokesperson for the organization’s mission and to quickly become the center for public statements when a crisis develops.

Peer Not Powerhouse: Probably descending from early religious nonprofits, its personnel may be seen by part of the public as not being “worldly.” They must be over-viewed by a group of laypersons that encounters the real world daily. The CEO, as a voting member and a board team peer, takes on increasing importance to reducing these attitudes. As long as the CEO works successfully as a peer not a powerhouse, there should be substantial benefits to the organization.

 

 

 

 

Is Your Nonprofit Board Chair Productive?

 

 

Is Your Nonprofit Board Chair Productive?

By: Eugene Fram      Free Digital Image

Hundreds of articles have probably been published about the skills and abilities nonprofit CEOs need to have to meet the challenges of the nonprofit environment. Nonprofit board chairs have been encountering escalating challenges to recruit able board personnel. Current chairs must develop a more active partnership with the CEO in fundraising and lead the board in making difficult financial, technology and other strategy decisions. (more…)

Guidelines For Developing Authentic Nonprofit Board Leaders

Guidelines For Developing Authentic Nonprofit Board Leaders

By Eugene Fram               Free Digital Image

The problems of Wells Fargo and Enron  have provided negative examples for future leaders, according to William George, Senior Fellow at the Harvard Business School. As an antidote to these and others serious problems that have plagued business and nonprofits in the last several decades, he cites the movement towards Authentic Leadership. He further lists six guidelines to identify behaviors in such leaders. Following are my views on how his guidelines can be useful to directors and managers in the nonprofit environment. (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/authentic-leadership-rediscovered) (more…)

What Are the Best Risk Levels for Your Nonprofit’s Investments In A COVID 19 Environment And After It ?

What Are the Best Risk Levels for Your Nonprofit’s Investments in a COVID 19 environment and after it?

By Eugene Fram

Some nonprofits have significant investment accounts. The following are some guidelines to help develop investment policies during and after COVID 19. These funds may have been accrued through annual surpluses/donations or have been legally mandated to cover future expenditures through a reserve account.

  1. How does your committee define risk, and how much are you willing to take? *  Most nonprofit by-laws require a nonprofit to conservatively manage and invest its funds. This give the investment committee a wide range of policies to employ.

I have encountered ultraconservative nonprofits that invest all funds in several bank savings accounts that are protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC). Those that advocate this position feel that they don’t want to assume responsibility for loss of donor or membership funds that might occur, even temporarily, with investments in a mix portfolio of investment opportunities such as stock funds and/or rated bonds. (more…)