Ineffective directors

Mismanagement Causes Huge Agency Failure—A Word To The Wise Nonprofit?

Mismanagement Causes Huge Agency Failure—A Word To The Wise Nonprofit?

By Eugene Fram

Rarely do failed for-profit or nonprofit organizations get a posthumous review of what actually went wrong. The collapse of one of the largest nonprofits in the US, the Federal Employment Guidance Service (FEGS) of New York City, is a noteworthy exception. Details of the causes that led to the human service’s demise were aired widely throughout NY media. * This organization had a $250 million budget, with 1900 employees who served 120,000 households covering a range of mental health and disability services, housing, home care and employment services.

Following are my interpretations of what its board should have done to avoid such a tragedy.

Failure of nonprofits: Failure of small nonprofits is rampant for a wide variety of known reasons. For example, “Nonprofits tend to be more trusting of their employees and have less stringent financial controls than their for-profit counterparts.” **

Outside of fraud being involved, the FEGS failure demonstrates that no nonprofit is too big to fail, probably because of a lack of board due care. Boards have to be acutely aware of the professional financial competencies of their CFO and CEO or well-meaning people who naively believed that loans could be easily repaid. There should have been a well-documented financial l strategy. The nonprofit closed with $47 million in loans/liabilities/debts.

Symptoms of impending collapse: Clearly with $47 million being owed, common financial ratios should have alerted knowledgeable board members to the coming catastrophe. But in the nonprofit environment, it is not unusual to that find directors, even business executives, are unfamiliar with the fund accounting approach used by nonprofit organizations.

In addition, contracting city and state agencies failed in their reviews of the organization’s finances. However, some nonprofits, either intentionally on unintentionally, can saddle contract reviewers and directors with so much information that even the most conscientious can’t spot problems. (Humorously, directors in this category are referred to as “mushroom directors” because like growing mushrooms, they are kept in the dark an covered with excrement. But this type of tactic was successfully used against IRS auditors in the Madoff debacle.)

Government or Foundation Contracts: In accepting these contracts, nonprofits must be realistic about whether or not there is enough money to cover full costs. They can’t be blinded by what the contract can do for the organization’s client. If adequate overhead funding is not attached to one or more of these agreements, they eventually can cause bankruptcy, because the nonprofit eventually will have to borrow or seek additional donations to cover them.

How Nonprofit Boards Can Avoid Problems

Review Financials: Current financials need to be given to directors monthly, or at least quarterly if the board meets less often. The very detailed budget data can often be difficult for those without budget experience. At the least, everybody on the finance committee needs to be able to intelligently review the income statement and balance sheet. Also they need to be aware that funding accounting permits some unusual twists—food donations, for example, can be included in revenues, based on an estimate of their value. Consequently, cash revenues and expenditures need to be a focus for directors’ analysis.

Make certain that financials are delivered on timely and complete bases. Problem Example: One CFO didn’t submit accounts receivable reports for nine months because he said he was too busy to compile it. Neither the board nor the CEO demanded issuance of the report. When finally delivered, it was clear that the CFO was listing a substantial number of noncollectable accounts as active ones. Both the CFO and CEO were fired, and the nonprofit had to hired expensive forensic accountants to review the impact.

Gaps Between Revenues and Expenditures: This is the ultimate red flag, if not followed carefully. It may vary from period-to-period in a predictable pattern that everybody understands, but if the gap continues, say for four to six months, strong board action is necessary.

Adopt written financial policies: These are necessary to make sure all concerned with finances are on the same page. Since interpretation is often required in financial decisions, nothing should be left open to broad interpretation.

Contracts with governments, foundations and others: Make certain that reimbursements for indirect costs are included. If not included, have a benefactor ready to step in to cover the costs.

An old Chinese proverb, “A wise man (or woman) learns from his/h own experience. The wiser man (or woman) learns from the experiences of others.” One hundred twenty thousands households and individuals lost services from an 80 year old human service nonprofit. There is much to learn from the collapse of FEGS.

* https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/thought-leadership/what-we-learn-when-nonprofit-closes-its-doors

**https://www.blog.abila.com/nonprofit-fraud-facts-2016-global-fraud-study/

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Going For Impact: A Non-Profit Blueprint For the Second Half of the Year  

 

Going For Impact: A Non-Profit Blueprint For the Second Half of the Year

By Eugene Fram     Free  Digiatl Image

For organizations and individuals, the end of the calendar year is the traditional planning period – the time used for self-assessment, strategizing and putting in place “game plan” for improvement and growth for the 12 months to come.

For many nonprofits, June 30th is the end of the fiscal and planning year. Yet the blueprint also offers the same opportunities to focus on improvement and growth.

But in today’s volatile, hyper-competitive and uncertain environment, this one-a-year exercise isn’t enough.

It just isn’t. Especially for nonprofits. And their boards of directors.

Here’s the good news: The year’s midpoint – upon us now – is a great point for an interim review. It’s a good time to review your game plan. Develop a vision goes beyond reviewing current budget projections against actuals and other compliance requirements.

I have identified five areas of focus – the last being a kind of “action plan” you can use to implement what’s of interest. Adopting just one of the many suggestions can yield a substantial return on investment.   They are: 

  • Your Leadership
  • Your Talent Pool
  • Your Fundraising
  • Your Impact Data
  • Your “Fix-It” Points

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Can A Board Member Ever Wear Two Hats?

Can A Board Member Ever Wear Two Hats?

By Eugene Fram

Although this is not a good idea for nonprofit organizations, it is not an unusual occurrence, especially among start-ups. A director in a start-up nonprofit will need to assume some staff responsibilities as a volunteer. But he/s will need to organizationally report to the CEO. (more…)

Nonprofit Board Members—Are They Aware of Their Independent Director Duties?

Nonprofit Board Members—Are They Aware of Their Independent Director Duties?

By Eugene Fram     Free Digital Image

The vast majority of nonprofit board members serve as independent directors. They are not members of management, have other occupations as their major focus, but have some significant responsibilities to a community, profession, government or professional/trade association. Mary Jo White, Former Chair, U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, outlined the responsibilities of fund board members who also are independent directors to overview the investment dollars made by 53 million U.S. households. Many of her comments, in 2016, easily apply to nonprofit board members and their responsibilities as Independent directors. Note: The italicized materials following are White’s direct quotations. * (more…)

Nonprofit Chief Executives Should Have Title: President/CEO

 

Nonprofit Chief Executives Should Have Title: President/CEO

By Eugene Fram

This post, over several years, has developed a record of continued viewing interest. Rarely a day passes in which the data doesn’t include one or two views, or occasionally a day in which the viewer’s data can rise to five. For example, when previously updated in 2016 there were 525 post views and counting.  Perhaps the controversial nature of topic causes the longevity of interest

When nonprofit organizations reach a budget level of over $1 million and have about 10 staff members it is time to offer the chief operating officer the title of PRESIDENT/CEO. In addition, the title of the senior board volunteer should become CHAIRPERSON OF THE BOARD, and the title of EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR needs to be eliminated. Experience has shown that with a reasonably talented PRESIDENT/CEO at the helm, he/she can provide the following benefits: (more…)

Are Your Board and Staff Ready For Change?

Free Digital Image

Are Your Board and Staff Ready For Change?

By: Eugene Fram

“Ideally, change takes place only when is “a critical mass of board and staff want … it. A significant … portion of leadership must realize that the status quo won’t do” * Based on my experiences, this ideal is rarely achieved because:

  • The CEO needs to support the changes being suggested and/or mandated by a majority of the board.   But, if not fully invested in the change, he/s can accede to board wishes for action but move slowly in their implementations. The usual excuse for slow movement is budget constraint.

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Can Groupthink Hamstring Change on a Nonprofit Board?

Can Groupthink Hamstring Change on a Nonprofit Board?

By: Eugene Fram        Free Digital Image

Dictionaries typically define groupthink as “…the lack of individual creativity, or a sense of personal responsibility that is sometimes characteristic of group interaction.” In my opinion, the process is as lethal to the nonprofit board as smoking can be for humans. It ties boards to past experience and discourages experimentation. Since many nonprofit charters require boards to “conserve assets” and board members are characteristically volunteers, the nonprofit culture inevitably defers to groupthink–it’s in their DNA! “One goes along to get along.”
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