Ineffective directors

Nonprofit Board Disruption—A Board Member’s Reflections

 

Nonprofit Board Disruption—A Board Member’s Reflections

By: Eugene Fram

 

A tsunami can suddenly erupt on a nonprofit board. Or, instead, dissension can smolder within the organization, and finally burst into flame. In any case, polarization of opinion can damage an organization unless skillfully managed. It can occur on many fronts: fraud, sharp division of opinion, staff morale or any number of issues. In turbulent times such as the Covid 19 environment, latent problems can swiftly escalate and create chaos.

Disruption on the Board can only be resolved with strong leadership. In most cases, the Board Chair (BC) assumes the responsibility of addressing the problem. In my 30+ years of board/consulting participation, I have had a number of opportunities to view nonprofit boards in trouble. In this post, I share some of the suggestions that have “worked” to resolve problems and help rebuild broken organizations.

When the BC has to accept the challenge of uprooting the problem, he/she is likely to be met with some resistance. Board members may resign from the board in anticipation of a substantial increase in meetings and time involved. Some may be concerned that their management reputation could be sullied or personal financial liabilities leveled by the IRS, the possibility of lawsuits.

If the BC is unable to persuade the distressed board members that their expertise is needed to achieve the nonprofit’s mission, and has made them aware of the Directors & Officers’ Insurance policy which will protect them from financial liability, it will be difficult to recruit new people in this period of instability.

However, the BC can ask former board members to return for another term or two. In one case, a human service organization persuaded a board member about to be termed out to stay for another two years. He happened to be a senior vice president of a listed firm–and a valuable asset to the nonprofit.   He accepted the offer to stay and agreed to become BC of the weakened organization. During his extended tenure, he successfully recruited some former members dedicated to the organization’s mission. (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.

 

 

 

 

A Nonprofit Board Must Focus On Its Organization’s Impacts

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…)

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…)

Oversight Needs Tightening in Nonprofit Boards

Oversight Needs Tightening in Nonprofit Boards

By: Eugene Fram          Free Digital Image

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 those services 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 related item. 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 managers are causing consternation in some nonprofit and business organizations, certain changes in nonprofits are noteworthy. Those directors 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 innovative development approaches. She was subsequently appointed to the executive committee, deepening her view of the organization and priming her for senior 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 their electronic devices.
  • Experienced Board Members: Directors that 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.

 

Applying Fundamentals of a Nonprofit’s DNA To Enhance Planning

Applying Fundamentals of a Nonprofit’s DNA To Enhance Planning

By: Eugene Fram

No two nonprofit organizations are identical. Each may reflect similar missions visions and values but—because of basic differences in their DNAs * —are clearly impacted by distinct characteristics that may have developed over a long time period.

Bob Harris, CAE, suggests a nonprofit’s DNA consists of five elements. * * Following are my thoughts on how they can be applied, if a nonprofit board wants to develop an understanding of the “real world” applications of the Harris DNA elements. This needs to take place prior to the planning efforts. (more…)

Different Strokes For Nonprofit Board Folks

Different Strokes For Nonprofit Board Folks

By: Eugene Fram     Free Digital Photo

Over decades of service on nonprofit boards, I have interfaced with board colleagues who possess a variety of performance styles and behaviors. Certain of these types seem to be common to all boards. My comments below are based on adaptations of a director classification system suggested by David Frankel, Partner of Founder Collection. *

The Eager Beaver  

This board member (30s to early 40s) has probably been successful as an entrepreneur or is, perhaps, rapidly rising through middle management in a larger organization. He/she wants to “get things done”. His/her impatience with the typically slow nonprofit rate of progress can be channeled and directed by the CEO or Board Chair. Discouraged by lack of action, this director may quietly exit the board on the pretext that work pressures have increased. On the other hand, if properly nurtured, this category can offer substantial leadership contributions.   (more…)