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…)
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
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?
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.” **
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
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…)
A Nonprofit Board Must Focus On Its Organization’s Impacts
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
“One of the key functions of a (nonprofit) board of directors is to oversee (not micromanage) the CEO, ensuring that (stakeholders) are getting the most from their investments.” * State and Federal compliance regulations have been developed to make certain that boards have an obligation to represent stakeholders. These include the community, donors, foundations and clients, but not the staff as some nonprofit boards have come to believe. The failure of nonprofit boards, as reported almost daily by one blog site, ** shows something is wrong. Following are some inherent problems. (more…)
Maintaining World Class Integrity in a Nonprofit Boardroom: Guides for Action
By: Eugene Fram
There is little question that boards have overall responsibility for ensuring a nonprofit’s integrity. Take, for example, the case of a nonprofit where the former executive director and a board member conspired to steal $4 million of the organization’s funds. While the board did operate within its fiduciary duties and had no personal liabilities, an attorney in the case reported: This does not prevent a state’s attorneyfrom laying blame on the board, however. Although there may be no personal financial loss, the board its individual directors and the organization can suffer significant repetitional loss when integrity issues arise. http://bit.ly/REmSoC(more…)