Nonprofit governance

Can A Nonprofit Board Change Its DNA?

 


Can A Nonprofit Board Change Its DNA?

By: Eugene Fram        Free Digital Image

Genetic codes aside, the term DNA is now commonly used to describe distinctive characteristics and qualities in almost anything –living or inanimate. Every nonprofit has a DNA! And every board member, if questioned, will probably have a different take on that invisible life blood which — for better or worse—impacts the  actions of his/her board. One author goes so far as to suggest that   “…one common element to create sustainable success is evaluating and interjecting the right DNA.”

He goes on to recommend three steps to make the necessary changes in the nonprofit culture: Assessment, New Genetics and a Gestation period— the last step being essential …“for the new approach to take hold and grow.” * Following,, as an example, is how it might apply if a nonprofit board needs to move from a traditional Community Board to a Policy/Strategy Board.  This is a situation where the board increases its overview responsibilities and decreases or eliminates its involvement in operations, i.e. micromanagement.  

Assessment: Evaluations involve defining what the agency is doing well and what systems need to be removed or modified.  Listing the former is easy, but dropping long embedded practices can lead to unproductive board conflict.  Logically, board members still need to be in their third year of a median four or six-year tenure before sustainability assessment (5 to 10 Years) can be undertaken.Too much legacy culture has been embedded in the Board operations, calling for three to five year strategic plans. At that point, most or all of current board members will have been termed-out of their positions

I once observed, as an example, a board that made a strategy decision about changing the timing of an annual fund raising event.  Once the decision was made, the board took the remaining meeting time to review and formulate new platforms for the event, presenting management with implementation suggestions.  The prolonged discussion, in effect, was simply perpetuating a standard community board micromanaging process.  When I called this to the attention of the Executive Director, he claimed that it is part of the nonprofit’s culture to be operationally involved.

Assuming it will take about two years for a board member to become acclimated to the new board organization, it is clear that no single director can bring about a sustainable long-term approach until his/her third year of a six-year term. There should be two or three other older directors who strongly support the change.   Most importantly, the ED must see the value in it.  Otherwise, it will have to wait for the appointment of a new ED that may probably take place outside of the tenure periods of current board members.  Management and staff leadership who can take a broad view of the future also need to become involved.

New Genetics Include:

Growing the Future.  Early adopters are critical to change.  These are board members who, for example, fully understand the line between policy issues and operational ones.  They can be helpful to the board chair in keeping meeting discussions out of the operational “weeds.”

Equip, empower and encourage:  Allow the CEO to have full operational responsibility, with the understanding that a rigorous evaluation of quantitative and qualitative impact impacts will be reviewed each year.  The board and CEO should jointly develop these issues. ** Under no circumstances should the board singularly establish them.  

Assuming all these changes are in place and board members support them in their fourth or fifth tenure years. it’s then important to make sure that newer board members have a similar mindset.  Some new directors who may have had experiences in other more traditional nonprofits  might want to revert to the legacy operations because it is the way that “all nonprofits operate.”

Vet New Directors Carefully:  Make certain new directors understand the new board environment that is being developed so they are comfortable with it.  It can attract highly qualified directors and staff, with the DNA’s focus in creating sustainable long-term success.  Some, however, may have quite different views.  For example, I once encountered two board candidates, with social work backgrounds, who wanted to supersede management personnel and directly evaluate staff members, because they had field experience.

Gestation Period

It takes four to five years to firmly install the new system.  These environmental movements do not take place quickly. By then, the original directors leading the change will likely have termedout of their board positions. The recruitment committee will have to seek candidates who are attracted by the new environment and understand the need for substantial operational delegation to management.  Most of the problems will have been eliminated from the DNA, and it should set the nonprofit on a course for sustainable success.

*https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesnonprofitcouncil/2017/12/13/how-to-create-an-organizational-dna-thats-sustainable/#71ba9f5030ac

** https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2012/07/24/using-imperfect-metrics-well-tracking-progress-and-driving-change/

How Seriously Does Your Nonprofit Board Take the Matter of Ethics?

How Seriously Does Your Nonprofit Board Take the Matter of Ethics?

By Eugene Fram                           Free Digital Photo

Most board members are aware of their obligation to ensure their nonprofit’s compliance with certain standard regulations e.g. making tax payments, submitting IRS Form 990s and/or avoiding potential fraud. But what I have found missing in the nonprofit environment is a sense of board member responsibility to provide for and sustain a viable ethics program.

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What Attributes Qualify a High Performing Nonprofit Board?

What Attributes Qualify a High Performing Nonprofit Board?

By: Eugene Fram       Free Digital Image

Every Board—whether for- or non-profit –creates its own organizational “stage.” True, there is an ever-revolving cast of characters and variable props. But as any artistic director will tell you, it’s the quality of the performance that can make or break the perceived value of the production.

On a parallel plane, Russell Reynolds Associates, an international executive search firm, lists six key issues (in bold) that can determine the performance level of a for-profit board.
(http://bit.ly/1f5Yt7F)  Following are my views on how these questions can be applied to nonprofits. Such information may help directors to assess their own organizational impacts.

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How Can Nonprofit Boards Overcome the Inertia of Certain Directors?

 

 

How Can Nonprofit Boards Overcome the Inertia of Certain Directors?

BY: Eugene Fram        Free Digital Image

Making major changes in mission, board structure, management or other significant matters is difficult. The typical nonprofit board will be divided into several groups on the issue: 1) directors who want change, 2) directors opposed to change, some strongly opposed and 3) what I call “process directors,” persons uncomfortable with major decisions who always want more data or information before voting.

The first and third groups (directors who want change and process directors) will be very willing to appoint a committee to review the alternatives, but it’s up to the board chair to satisfy process directors who create obstacles.

Process directors like to sit back and examine issues, often, in my opinion, sincerely feeling that their questions allow them to be on the cusp of showing some insights that others have failed to notice. They always ask, “Have we consulted everybody?” Or say, “Let’s make sure we have considered everything.” Often they are directors who call for postponement of the vote, even after a lengthy discussion.

Process directors are well-intentioned, sincere individuals. However, the board has to be careful that these directors don’t allow the board to continually examine one angle after another until they lose sight of the board’s main job. They can keep action in limbo indefinitely! It is up to the board chair to makes certain that this does not happen. But board chairs want to develop an inclusive board where all who want to voice their views can be heard.

A certain level of board process is necessary to operate efficiently. But when it gets out of hand, it can have a serious negative effect. Boards often lose some of their best volunteers, who get frustrated and quietly resign. Their usual reason for resigning is “the pressure of job obligations.” To me, that’s a covert message that the board is getting mired in minutiae, usually initiated by process directors.

One friend recently resigned from a board, using the “job obligations” excuse. The real reason was that the executive director, a process oriented person, used board-meeting time inappropriately, including asking the full board to review detailed public relations Powerpoint presentations.

In another situation, I watched a board make a strategic decision involving the combining of two programs. Even after a thorough discussion of the decision, the board insisted on discussing the tactical decisions needed, all of which were the responsibility of management. The board was unable or unwilling to shed an imbedded process culture that the status quo nonprofit had used for over 50 years.

Can A Nonprofit Find Strategic Ways To Grow in Unsettled Times?

 

Can A Nonprofit Find Strategic Ways To Grow in Unsettled Times?

By: Eugene Fram                                Free Digital Image

Nonprofits have always had to struggle to meet their client needs, even when economic conditions and social turmoil were much less constraining than today  and they have dim prospects for the immediate future.   How can mid-level nonprofits uncover growth opportunities in the present environment?

Plan Strategically: Any nonprofit board needs a core of directors and managers who are capable of identifying potential new strategic directions. The CEO must be highly conversant with changes in the mission field. He/s then needs a core of board members to assist in realistically reviewing his/h long-term insights for growth, as well as board insights developed from generative discussions. The CEO, supported by several board members, can then be the keystone for board discussions about implementing change. Should the CEO not have the requisite forward-looking knowledge, the only alternative is to try to replace the CEO, a difficult change even under the best of circumstances.

Capacity Investment: As expected, nonprofits invest their assets in maintaining and improving programs. It seems that client needs will always be there to operate and expand existing programs. But success in nonprofits and elsewhere also involves beginning to solve tomorrow’s problem today. Example: The challenges for serving the aging cohort of baby boomers is clearly showing demographic impact. Those in the field or allied fields serving this cohort need to be concerned with finding new modalities to assist the baby boomers in an efficient, effective and humane manner. Where funding is a barrier to participate in such an effort, foundations and governmental agencies need to be aggressively tapped to fund with small-scale projects, if the foundation can partner with the nonprofit.  (See: https://www.snpo.org/publications/sendpdf.php?id=2024)

Impact & Evaluation: Midsized nonprofits should have the capacity to conduct a few small-scale studies every  few years, if growth and development are cultural values for the organizations. Resources might come from within the nonprofit and/or from outside sources. Once a small-scale study provides evidence of impact; the nonprofit can find outside interest for more small-scale improvement, additional evaluation and possibly some outside support.

Obviously a small new project  won’t be able to have an extensive evaluation component. However, if imperfect metrics are used in the process, the impact findings can be useful in seeking an interest from other sources. (These are metrics that are anecdotal, subjective, interpretive or qualitative. For more details see:http://bit.ly/OvF4ri)

Importance Of the Board & Management: Growth opportunities will be initiated in nonprofits, only if the board constantly asks for them, especially in the current environment.  The board, overtly or indirectly, has to ask management about innovations that are taking place or can take place within the organization. Annual questions to management such as “ What do you want to do innovatively or creatively this coming year?” are mandated. When it appears an innovation can be scaled a little or an innovative person has potential to be creative, the nonprofit board has to support this learning culture for testing.

Do Nonprofit Directors Face Cyber Security Risk?

Do Nonprofit Directors Face Cyber Security Risk?

By: Eugene Fram      Free Digital Image

Solarwinds and Target and others may seem far afield from the concerns of nonprofit directors, except for the giants in the area, like AARP. However, think about this hypothetical scenario.

A group of high school students hacked into the computer system of a local nonprofit offering mental health services and gain access to records of clients, perhaps even placing some of the records of other teenagers on the internet.

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How A Nonprofit Board Member Can Initiate Positive Change

How A Nonprofit Board Member Can Initiate Positive Change 

By: Eugene Fram              Free Digital Image

A nonprofit board member comes up with an idea that he thinks will do wonders for the organization. He is convinced that establishing a for-profit subsidiary will not only be compatible with the group’s mission but may even bring in new sources of revenue. It’s his ball–now what’s the best route to run with it? All too often in the nonprofit environment, initiating change can be as daunting as trying to get consensus in the US Congress! There are, however, certain interpersonal levers, which, if pushed, can accelerate the process–although one hopes that not all the levers will be needed in any specific situation.

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Good News for Nonprofit Board Members & CEOs—Examples From The Behvorial Sciences

Good News for Nonprofit Board Members & CEOs—Examples From The Behvorial Sciences

By Eugene Fram             Fee Digital Image

Behavioral economics, finance and marketing apparently are making significant strides in helping nonprofits to understand how to maximize their development efforts. Following are three studies that appear to have significant nonprofit interest.

(http://www.behaviouralinsights.co.uk/bx2015/rounding-up-the-latest-insights-from-behavioural-exchange-2016/(more…)

Nonprofits in Limbo: Preparing for the Unexpected

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Nonprofits in Limbo: Preparing for the Unexpected

By: Eugene Fram          Free Digital Image

 I happened to read a report from Deloitte Consulting suggesting ways that for-profit organizations can improve their performance in uncertain times. The report centers on key drivers of board effectiveness that, in my opinion, resonate with similar nonprofit situations. *  Most nonprofit boards typically live with uncertainty and are perennially “on the edge.” 

  • Conservative leadership: Nonprofit boards are responsible for donor and charitable types of revenues that place directors in a public trust position. In addition board members typically will only be active for a median tenure period of four to six years. As a result they often become overly conservative in their strategic views and may accept CEOs that “mind-the-store” with modest incremental growth annually.

          To prevent the organizational boat from capsizing in the perpetual seas of the           
           pandemic and beyond, the board needs to rely on the best forward looking
           information about strategy, people, culture and clients.
           All of this must be in solid alignment with a substantial mission,  or a modified one if 
           the external environment requires it.
           This allows the nonprofit to cut through the barriers that impede strategy     
           development.           

  • Opportunities & Strategies: Even when the organization is prospering, the board has a responsibility to press for innovations and to support small-scale experiments as called for in a “Lean Management” structure. Within this structure, the staff can test the waters via experiments to move more boldly, as long as the experiments yield positive results. ** At a minimum, the the board and management, need to focus on near-term planning during the pandemic period.  They then need to move to a “north star” approach, with a ten year framework, once the pandemic recedes. This requires management to balance the needs of the various client groups that can call for heartbreaking decisions. For example, should revenues be allocated to marketing or used for client programs? 
  • Match fit: Boards have a responsibility to motivate the nonprofit to realistically evaluate the tensions between new models and existing ones, for example between face-to-face meetings and virtual ones. It is already clear the virtual format has caught the attentions of nonprofits. If nonprofits plan to rely on virtual meeting to a significant extent, board and managements will need to improve  their technologies, presentations and develop better ways for participants to become involved in discussions. 
  • Culture, culture, and culture: As Peter Drucker has noted, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast every morning,”  Nonprofit boards’ cultures play a key role in determining the level of risk the board is willing to take. With key drivers, nonprofit boards will have to take reasonable risks to survive the impacts of the pandemic,  and work with management to take some crafted entrepreneurial risks. It now appears that fund raising, for example, will emphasize greater focus on major donors, and board members will need to provide more time and effort  
  • Diversity and inclusion:  Board diversity is a well established need.  Inclusion not only means differences by demographics but recruiting new board members and maximizing the best they have to offer.   Nonprofit boards traditionally try to acculturate new board members to the current culture instead of maximizing their potentials. For example, a person with financial strategy and accounting backgrounds will be asked to work with the CFO on accounting related problems because this has been the prior process. Instead, he/s should be asked to develop a long term-term financial plan.  This should be more meaningful work for the new board member and of significant benefit to the organization. 
  • Meeting format:  For the thousands of nonprofits that have had to suddenly change meeting format from face-to-face to a virtual format,  it is time to consider what is best for the organization post-Covid.  Can the board, management and staff be productive working from home? Will a virtual-face-to-face process be acceptable in terms of productivity and client satisfaction?  How can productivity be assessed under the virtual format?     
  • Curiosity is Key: To keep a nonprofit sustainable in the long term beyond the pandemic, Deloitte Consulting concludes, “Directors should get out of the ‘same old’ board room, and should even look across borders to learn from approaches in (different nonprofits) and companies… . Developing news skills and insights are essential for innovation and should be sought to create the questioning and challenging environment needed to imagine, inspire and deliver better outcomes (and impacts). Complacency (in uncertain times) can be a killer.”*

*https://www.google.com/search?q=Sevn+ways+to+im%5Bprove+board+effectivness+in+uncertgain+times&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=Seven+ways+to+improve+board+effectiveness+in+uncertain+times

**https://npengage.com/nonprofit-management/lean-implementation/

 

Is there truth in the statement that ALL nonprofits are actually businesses, and they need to be run like businesses?

Is there truth in the statement that ALL nonprofits are actually businesses, and they need to be run like businesses?

By Eugene Fram                Free Digital Image 

In my opinion, too many board and staff members in the nonprofit environment:

Do not realize that a nonprofit can focus even more effectively on “caring” missions, visions and values while operating under a business model. Many functions of a business and are the same for both types of organizations — financial operations, human resources, marketing, board governance, etc.

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