Dysfunctional nonprofits

Stay on That Nonprofit Board!

Stay on That Nonprofit Board!

By: Eugene Fram

Gene Takagi, noted San Francisco attorney, who specializes in nonprofit organizations published an article listing 12 reasons for resigning from a nonprofit board. It is worth reading. (http://bit.ly1r2M5Hi)

BUT

Nonprofit directors often become impatient with the slow pace of progress toward positive change. Here are some actions that may change the situation, improve service to clients and prepare the organization for any long-term mission disruptions. (more…)

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What Can A Nonprofit Chair Do To Fix A Dysfunctional Board?

What Can A Nonprofit Chair Do To Fix A Dysfunctional Board?

By: Eugene Fram             Free Digital Image

There are times when the governing body of any organization may appear to be “broken.” The directors, whether for profit or nonprofit, may be polarized—progress is stunted – apathy and confusion replace purpose and efficiency.
A listing of ways to resuscitate dysfunctional business firms prompted me to expand on actions for nonprofits in similar condition. When a nonprofit is in trouble, any chair, who is aware of his/ her leadership responsibilities, should aspire to be the “fixer “of the fractured board. But there is just so much he/s can do. Some failures have deep endemic roots such as outdated structure, personality conflicts etc. The following actions are within the chair’s capability, and they can be useful in repairing board disruption. (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 find 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 recently found 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…)

Dysfunction in the Nonprofit Sector—Reality or Myth?

 

Dysfunction in the Nonprofit Sector—Reality or Myth?

By: Eugene Fram         Free Digital Image

Judging from the vast literature on dysfunctional nonprofit boards and organizations (my own posts included!) one might conclude that the majority of nonprofits are struggling, incompetent and/or in crisis. I argue that this is not the case. Decades of experience lead me to believe that nonprofits have the same functional variables as profit making organizations—dysfunctional at times like Target or GM; efficient like Apple or Amazon. Everybody doesn’t get it right all the time.

Perceptions become reality to those who are quick to embrace popular labels such as the overused term, “dysfunctional.” Obviously, in the case of nonprofits, such perceptions are harmful. Once evaluated in this way the stigma persists and can seriously reduce the level of support that is so critical to the work of these organizations. (more…)

The Enron Debacle, 17 years Ago—2018 Lessons for Nonprofit Boards?

The Enron Debacle, 17 years Ago—2018 Lessons for Nonprofit Boards?

By: Eugene Fram                Free Digital Image

In 2001 Enron Energy collapsed due to financial manipulations and a moribund board. It was the seventh-largest company in the United States. Andrew Fastow, the former CFO and architect of the manipulations served more than five years in prison for securities fraud. He offered the following comments to business board members that, in my opinion, are currently relevant to nonprofit boards. (http://bit.ly/1JFGQ6T) Quotations from the article are italicized.

One explanation of his downfall was he didn’t stop to ask whether the decisions he was making were ethical (moral).

Nonprofits directors and managers can find themselves in similar situations. One obvious parallel is when a conflict of interest occurs.  In smaller and medium sized communities, it is wise to seek competitive bids, especially when th purchase may be awarded to a current or former board member or volunteer.

Board members and managers themselves can be at personal financial peril, via the Intermediate Sanctions Act, if they wittingly or unwittingly provide an excess salary benefit to an employee or an excess benefit to a volunteer or donor. Examples: The board allows an above market salary to offer to the CEO. Also the board allows a parcel of property to be sold to a volunteer or donor at below market values.  See: https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/intermediate-sanctions

One subtle area of decision-making morality centers on whether a board’s decision is immoral by commission or omission. Examples: In its normal course of client duties, the board allows managers to travel by first class air travel. Obviously, resources that are needed by clients are being wasted and morally indefensible. On the other hand the moral issue can come in to play, if the nonprofit is husbanding resources well beyond what is needed for an emergency reserve. The organization, in a sense, is not being all it can be in terms of client services or in seeking additional resources. Overly conservative financial planning, not unusual in nonprofit environments, can result in this latter subtle omission “moral” dilemma. Overtly, universities with billions of dollars on their balance sheets have been highlighted as having the issue, but I have occasionally noted smaller nonprofits in the same category.

He (Fastow) said he ultimately rationalized that he was following the rules, even if he was operating in the grey zones (area).

There can be grey zones for nonprofits. Example: IRS rules require that the nonprofit board be involved in the development of the annual Form 990 report. But what does this involvement mean—a brisk overview when the report is finished, a serious discussion of the answers to the 38 questions related to corporate governance, a record in the board minutes covering questions raised and changes suggested, etc.? A nonprofit boards needs to make a determination on which course is appropriate.

Boards implementing government-sponsored contracts can get into grey areas. Example: Some contracts require the nonprofits to follow government guidelines for travel expenses. I wonder how many nonprofit audit committees are aware of their responsibilities to make certain these guidelines are followed?

According to Fastow, a for-profit director can ask the wrong question—“Is this allowed?” A nonprofit director can make the same mistake. Instead, in my opinion, the better question for a nonprofit should be “Will this decision help the organization to prosper long after my director’s term limit?”

As Fastow did, human service boards can invite trouble if they falsely rationalize an action as being taken for client welfare, and then conclude they are following the rules.

Mr. Fastow said one way to start changing an entrenched culture is to have either a director on the board, or a hired adviser to the board, whose role is to question and challenge decisions.

Nonprofit directors are often recruited from friends, family members and business colleagues, etc. This process creates an entrenched board.

When elected to the board, a process begins to acculturate the new person to the status quo of the board, instead making best use of the person’s talents. Example: An accountant with financial planning experience will be asked to work with the CFO on routine accounting issues, far below her/h professional level. One answer is to accept Fastow’s suggestion and to appoint a modified lead director or adviser to a nonprofit board. (For details: see: http://bit.ly/13Dsd3v)

An old Chinese proverb states, “A wise man learns by his own experiences, the wiser man learns from the experiences of others. Nonprofit can learn a something from Andrew Fastow’s post conviction recollections to hopefully help avoid signifcnat debacles.