The “Compliant” Nonprofit Board—A CEO Takes Charge Like a Founder!
By Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
According to BoardSource, “ ‘Founderitis’ and ‘founder’s syndrome’ are terms often used to describe a founder’s resistance to change. When founderitis surfaces, the source of the dilemma often is a founder’s misunderstanding of his or her role in an evolving organization.” * I would like to suggest that a nonprofit CEO also might suffer from the “founderitis illness,” sometimes with the board only being mildly or completely unaware of it. (more…)
Clearly the purpose of a nonprofit board is to serve the constituency that establishes it—be it community, industry, governmental unit and the like. That said, the “how” to best deliver that service is often not so clear. An executive committee, for example, can overstep its authority by assuming powers beyond its scope of responsibility. I encountered this in one executive committee when the group developed a strategic plan in an interim period where there was no permanent ED. The board then refused to share it with the incoming executive. In another instance, an executive committee took it upon itself to appoint members of the audit committee—including outsiders who were unknown to the majority on the board.
The fuzziness of boundaries and lack of defined authority call for an active nonprofit system of checks and balances. For a variety of reasons this is difficult for nonprofits to achieve:
A typical nonprofit board member is often recruited from a pool of friends, relatives and colleagues, and will serve, on a median average, for four to six years. This makes it difficult to achieve rigorous debate at meetings (why risk conflicts with board colleagues?). Directors also are not as eager to thoughtfully plan for change beyond the limits of their terms. Besides discussing day-to-day issues, the board needs to make sure that immediate gains do not hamper long-term sustainability.
The culture of micromanagement is frequently a remnant from the early startup years when board members may have performed operational duties. In some boards it becomes embedded in the culture and continues to pervade the governmental environment, allowing the board and executive committee to involve themselves in areas that should be delegated to management.
The executive team is a broad partnership of peers –board members, those appointed to the executive committee and the CEO. The executive committee is legally responsible to act for the board between meetings–the board must ratify its decisions. But unchecked, the executive committee can assume dictatorial powers whose conclusions must be rubber-stamped by the board.
Mitigating Oversight Barriers: There is often little individual board members can do to change the course when the DNA has become embedded in the organization. The tradition of micromanagement, for example, is hard to reverse, especially when the culture is continually supported by a succession of like-minded board chairs and CEOs. No single board member can move these barriers given the brevity of the board terms. But there are a few initiatives that three or four directors, working in tandem, can take to move the organization into a high-performance category.
Meetings: At the top of every meeting agenda there needs to be listed at least one policy or strategy topic. When the board discussion begins to wander, the chair should remind the group that they are encroaching on an area that is management’s responsibility. One board I observed wasted an hour’s time because the chair had failed to intercept the conversation in this manner. Another board agreed to change its timing of a major development event, then spent valuable meeting time suggesting formats for the new event—clearly a management responsibility to develop.
“New Age” Board Members: While millennial directors may be causing consternation in some legacy-bound nonprofit and business organizations, certain changes in nonprofits are noteworthy. Those board members in the 40- and- under age bracket need some targeted nurturing. I encountered a new young person who energized the board with her eagerness to try to innovative development approaches. She was subsequently appointed to the executive committee, deepening her view of the organization and primed her for board chair leadership.
Board members who understand the robust responsibilities of a 21st century board need to accept responsibilities for mentoring these new age board people, despite their addictions to electronic devices.
Experienced Board Members: Board members who have served on other high-performance boards have the advantage of being familiar with modern governance processes and are comfortable in supporting change. They are needed to help boards, executive committees and CEOs to move beyond the comfortable bounds of the past. They will be difficult to recruit, but they are required ingredients for successful boards.
NEW Projects: Boards and the CEO must be bold and try new approaches to meet client needs. For example instead of going through a complete planning process for a new program the board must ask management to complete a series of small experiments to test the program. When a series of results are positive, the nonprofit can work on a plan to implement the program.
Conclusion: Individual board members working alone will probably become frustrated in trying to contend with the three overview barriers discussed. But working with three or four colleagues, over time, on a tandem basis, they can make inroads on the barriers. Meetings can become more focused on policies/strategies, new age board members can become more quickly productive, experienced board members can become role models and new programs and other projects can be more quickly imitated via the use of small scale experiments.
Nonprofit Board Recruitment: Can Google’s Process Apply to NFPs?
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
Following are Google’s hiring attributes that might be helpful to consider, if applied to nonprofit board recruitment as well as employee recruitment. * Nonprofits should especially consider them for board recruitment. Although nonprofits traditionally use an attribute matrix emphasizing skills such as finance, marketing and accounting, here are some others to consider.
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. (more…)
How Does Cultural Intelligence (CQ) Impact A Nonprofit Board?
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Photo
There are many ways to assess the balance of capabilities on nonprofit board board members. EDs and board chairs are generally familiar with the implications of terms like IQ (cognitive ability) and EQ (emotional intelligence). New research has added a third characteristic— cultural intelligence or CQ. * Obviously, CQ comes into focus when boards are dealing with global or international issues. But its usefulness is still germane to community-based and/or domestically focused professional/trade associations. Making a change in board strategy is at best a challenging process. But when that plan collides with cultural differences, board culture will trump change. To paraphrase Peter Drucker’s well-known pronouncement—“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast Daily.” (more…)
Errors That 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 directors 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 approved the acquisition without sufficient review. When the acquisition was consummated, the founding CEO of the subsidiary refused to take directions from the CEO of the nonprofit. In addition, the normal financial settlement of the project requires that a portion of the price be withheld, in escrow, pending adequate performance. In this instance, the nonprofit paid cash for the acquisition. Based on a lack of performance, the operation was finally closed with a substantial loss.(more…)
It happens over time. A passionately conceived mission starts to drift from its original intentions. Stakeholders begin to view a nonprofit’s purposes from a different angle. There is a discrepancy between how the organization is committed to act and external perceptions of its current actions. Nonprofit boards need to be on the alert to such misalignments that can go unnoticed in the perceptual “fog” of daily challenges. It can limp along for years without acknowledging the impact of the client reality by which the nonprofit is being judged.
Should Nonprofit Boards Be A Boot Camp for Corporate Executives?
By: Eugene Fram
Alice Korngold, President of Korngold Consulting, suggests, “Nonprofit board service is the ultimate leadership opportunity, giving business executives the personal and professional skills they need… .“ * She suggests that the following abilities can be developed from such experiences. But will the neophyte board member become attuned to some inappropriate nonprofit practices, such as micromanagement, and promote them on subsequent nonprofit board assignments? Following are some of the different experiences the business executive might encounter on a nonprofit board.
Are Nonprofit Boards Capable of Evaluating Themselves?
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
A study of business boards by Stanford University yielded the following results:
Only one-third (36%) of board members surveyed believe their company does a very good job of accurately assessing the performance of individual directors.
Almost half (46%) believe their boards tolerate dissent.
Nearly three quarters of directors (74%) agree that board directors allow personal or past experiences to dominate their perspective.
And, perhaps most significant, the typical director believes that at least one fellow director should be removed from the board because the individual is not effective. *
Given that many of these business boards have the financial power to employ legal counsel or consultants to conduct a rigorous impartial evaluation, what can a nonprofit board, with limited financial resources, do to make sure that the board and its members are being fairly evaluated to drive change?
Business Governance Principles Make Sense for Nonprofits?
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
Both for-profit and nonprofit boards can learn for the practices of the other. For decades,as an example, nonprofits have separated the duties of the board chair from those of the CEO. This is still a major discussion for a large portion of business boards.*
A blue-ribbon group of public directors, including Warren Buffett, has developed a nine page “manifesto” that presents their commonsense operating principles for boards of publicly traded companies. (No group of national nonprofits has the financial resources or prestige to be able to issue a “manifesto.”)
Their objective is, “To provide a basic framework for sound, long-term oriented governance.” ** My immediate response to the document was that about half of the guidelines can be easily translated into useful advice and/or caveats for nonprofit boards. The benefits as suggested by a Chinese proverb are, “A wise man learns from his own experiences, a wiser man learns from the experiences of others.”