Nonprofit governance

Can Small Experiments Test Nonprofit Strategic Validity?

Can Small Experiments Test Nonprofit Strategic Validity?

By: Eugene Fram        Free digital image

When given a series of potential mission changes, modifications or opportunities, most nonprofit boards take the following steps: (1) Discuss alternatives (2) Develop working plans, board/staff presentations and funding proposals (3) All three usually are packaged into a three or five year strategic plan for implementation. Typically the process can take about six months to “get all stakeholders on board.” When something new is suggested, the conservative board and nonprofit management immediately respond, “Great idea, let’s consider it in the new strategic plan.” Results: It can take three to five years to implement the idea, assuming the plan actually gets off the shelf, not an unusual occurrence for nonprofit organizations!
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The Nonprofit CEO–How Much Board-CEO Trust Is Involved?

 

 

The Nonprofit CEO–How Much Board-CEO Trust Is Involved?

By; Eugene Fram   Free Digital Image

The title, CEO for the operating head of a nonprofit, clearly signals to the public who has the final authority in all operating matters and can speak for the organization.*  .

The CEO designation calls for an unwritten trusting contact with the board based on mutual respect, drawing from the symbolism that he or she is the manager of the operating link between board and staff. It is a partnership culture. However, a solid partnership does not allow the board to vacate its fiduciary and overview obligations. The board has moral and legal obligations to “trust but verify” and to conduct a rigorous annual evaluation of outcomes and impacts CEO has generated for the organization.

While the trust the board has in its chief operating officer can’t be described in exact quantitative terms, viewing it through the lens of a set of behaviors can give an idea of whether it is excellent, good or nonexistent.

Following are some of the behaviors that signify a trusting partnership is in place: (more…)

Business Board Experts Offer Nonprofit Board Gems!!

   

By: Eugene Fram                                  Free Digital Image

The wise person learns from his/h own experiences. The wiser person learns from the experiences of others

The CEO Forum published an article covering the governance views of five business board members, known for their wisdom and vision.   Following are some of topics in the article that relate to nonprofit boards. *

Good governance is dependent upon well-curated boards. This means that nonprofit boards must look beyond the functional competencies (e.g. accounting, marketing, law, etc.) for candidates. Within these groupings, they need to seek candidates who have strategic outlooks, are comfortable with critical thinking and have documented leadership skills.   This requires recruiting and vetting efforts that go well beyond the friends, neighbors and colleagues who traditionally have been the sources for board positions. Also related is the issue of board succession, since that many will leave the board after a four to six year period. The current board(s) has an obligation to make rigorous recruiting and vetting become part of the nonprofit’s culture.

Assessing long-term sustainability. In the past, nonprofits have projected longevity because there will always be a need for the services or products they provide. This is no longer an assured proposition. Nonprofit day care centers now must compete with those that are for-profit. Improvements in medication have decreased the need for individual counseling and many new technologies can quickly solve problems that are embedded in the nonprofit’s mission.

Review governance best practices carefully! Know who is suggesting them and make certain they are appropriate for a specific organization. For example, some experts suggest that executive committees should be eliminated. However an executive committee that is responsible for a slim board committee structure can be effective in driving change and promoting better communications throughout the organization. **

Changing public accounting firms. Nonprofit accounting practice suggests changing public accounting firms about every five years. However one expert suggests, “It is important to ensure that judgment areas such as nonGAAP disclosures are well-defined, supporting calculations are well-documented and that the definitions and calculations are consistent across reporting periods.” At times of accounting firm change, nonprofit board members need to be able to add these issues to their question that they pose to management.

Ethics & Compliance. Like business organizations, nonprofits are subject to significant lapses in ethics and compliance. One study of  nonprofit fraud found that it 46% involved multiple perpetrators.  ***  As shown in the recent Wells Fargo debacle, establishing the tone for rigorous applications of a standard needs to start with the board and flow through all management levels. In the current environment, audit committees have to be especially alert and take immediate actions when red flags arise in either the ethics and/or compliance areas.   In my opinion, a nonprofit audit committee that meets only once or twice a year is not doing the necessary job.

Strategy. The nonprofit board has an obligation to help management see “around the next corner.” This involves board members assessing coming trends and sparking civil and meaningful board and committee discussions.

Board member comfort zones. Like their business counterparts, few nonprofit board members are “comfortable testing how to rock the norms.” It is easier to acculturate new directors to the current norms, a process that is inward bound and self-defeating. But a start can be initiated with questions such as, “If we were to start a new nonprofit across the street, what would it look like and who of the present board and a staff members would we ask to join us?

*https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertreiss/2017/05/22/americas-five-governance-experts-share-perspective-on-boards/#2a2ee326659a    

**For documentation see: https://goo.gl/QEL8x3

***https://nonprofitquarterly.org/nonprofit-fraud-its-a-people-problem-so-combat-it-with-governance/

 

Director Independence: a Nonprofit Board Issue?

 

Director Independence: a Nonprofit Board Issue?

By: Eugene Fram       Free Digital Photo

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…)

The Fantasy Nonprofit—Who Works There?

The Fantasy Nonprofit—Who Works There?

By: Eugene Fram                               Free Digital Photo

After three decades of immersion in the nonprofit culture, I occasionally allow myself to imagine what it would be like to start all over again. Assuming I were in the process of founding a new nonprofit I would have the authority to choose my own team! In this hypothetical, I could shape the mode of governance and select the participants I think would interface most effectively!

Here are some of the decisions I might make based on current realities:  (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.

 

 

 

 

What Are the Best Risk Levels for Your Nonprofit’s Investments In A COVID 19 Environment And After It ?

What Are the Best Risk Levels for Your Nonprofit’s Investments in a COVID 19 environment and after it?

By Eugene Fram

Some nonprofits have significant investment accounts. The following are some guidelines to help develop investment policies during and after COVID 19. These funds may have been accrued through annual surpluses/donations or have been legally mandated to cover future expenditures through a reserve account.

  1. How does your committee define risk, and how much are you willing to take? *  Most nonprofit by-laws require a nonprofit to conservatively manage and invest its funds. This give the investment committee a wide range of policies to employ.

I have encountered ultraconservative nonprofits that invest all funds in several bank savings accounts that are protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC). Those that advocate this position feel that they don’t want to assume responsibility for loss of donor or membership funds that might occur, even temporarily, with investments in a mix portfolio of investment opportunities such as stock funds and/or rated bonds. (more…)

NONPROFITS NEED A BRAND THAT RESONATES!

NONPROFITS NEED A BRAND THAT RESONATES!

By: Eugene Fram       Free Digital Photo

How do people see your organization? Is your nonprofit clearly perceived, and the unique nature of its work, fully understood in the community or industry?

Nonprofit board members occasionally talk about the organizational brand image but rarely take tangible steps to define it. Yet the creation of a strong brand is a major factor in generating public respect, support and significant funding sources. Potential donors need to believe implicitly in the impact of the nonprofit on its clients. They also need to understand the realities implied in the brand image that fail to match the realities of the organization’s operations. For example, some family services agencies (actually multi-human service groups), have long struggled with a brand perception that they offer only family reproduction services.

Following are some guidelines that may help improve a current image or further clarify the mission which fuels the dedicated efforts of boards, staff and volunteers: (more…)

What to Expect When The New Nonprofit CEO Is A Millennial!

What to Expect When The New Nonprofit CEO Is A Millennial!

By: Eugene Fram   Free Digital Image

The nonprofit’s CEO, a baby boomer or genXer, is about to retire or leave for another position. The board has engaged a new CEO a millennial person born after 1980. * His/h age is probably late 30s or possibly early 40s. What changes can the board expect from this new professional?

Following are my estimates based on some suggestions from psychologist, Dr. Jon Warner, http://bit.ly/1IFXK7u plus my 10 years experience collegiate teaching millennials. (more…)

Does the Nonprofit CEO Need to Go?

Does the Nonprofit CEO Need to Go?

By: Eugene Fram   Free Digital Image

Recognizing and acknowledging that the current CEO is no longer helpful to the nonprofit organization is never easy to come by. Beyond malfeasance and under-performance, obvious reasons for initiating such a discussion, there are often other indicators: his/her modest leadership skills, ineffective discussions between the CEO and the board chair, criticism from external stakeholders, overemphasis on tactics unbalanced by a focus on strategies, etc.

Volunteer directors are loathe to be confrontational when a CEO has been marginally satisfactory for a number of years, preferring to avoid the “drama” that inevitably accompanies the “changing of the guard.” Directors know such a change may be confrontational and the action of the majority may even split the board. They also inherently know that a termination will require more board meeting time and negotiations, something that can interfere with job and personal commitments.

Yet this type of change can’t be accomplished in a clear and pristine manner — a textbook change is usually not the case. The board first needs to take three major steps.

Work with the CEO – In the best of all scenarios, the CEO’s contract may be expiring and/or she/h may be ready for a transition. The two parties can then arrive at an amicable agreement and timetable for change. Even in this less painful circumstance, there is the possibility that there may be resistance from some board members and staff. If the best scenario is not realistic, arrangements need to be made for the CEO’s termination, hopefully in a mutually satisfactory process.

Board to have its “boots on the ground” — The board needs to make an initial assessment of the qualities necessary for a successor and then move forward and decide to identify potential candidates internally or start to contact employment sources. This requires the board to have comprehensive knowledge of strengths and weaknesses of all managers now reporting to the CEO. It also assumes that the board, in succession planning, knows the capabilities of all personnel who may become successor candidates.

Board consensus – Volunteer directors, not having a financial stake at risk, may be swayed by a jumble of emotion and loyalties. Even though there is a respectable consensus as the process begins, it is not unusual to have some fallout among the directors who may change their minds prior to taking action. In addition, be prepared with a backup plan to address the outbursts of protest from staff, outside community and possibly industry.

The change at best will be disruptive, but the board must remain resolute, never losing sight of the overall rationale. The CEO position needs to evolve as the board reviews opportunities to grow and increase the level of the organization’s services. If the CEO is a “C” Level player, the board has an obligation to seek a “B” level candidate who will be comfortable with the nonprofit’s expanded scope. And if a strategic goal requires a merger or acquisition along with a mission modification, the board would need an “A” level player. A realistic vision of the organization’s growth direction will dictate the strengths required to effectively recruit a new executive leader.

Calming the waters associated with CEO change:

Keep the board resolute! – As stated earlier, volunteer directors can become emotional and succumb to outside pressures and protest. Be sure that they stay “on message” whether or not the vote was unanimous. Pay special attention to the relatively new board members who may not have internalized the organizational history as deeply as others.

Keep the CEO informed — Once the decision is firmly approved, inform the CEO as soon as possible and in person. Do not notify by letter or email. Be mindful of the contributions he/s has made to the organization and provide reasonable incentives (bonus, references, etc.) to help during the transition. Determine if it is politically and staffing wise to keep the outgoing CEO in a subordinate position, should some specific skills are needed.

Treat outgoing CEO with respect – She/h has made contributions and needs to be credited for them.

Move quickly – Even if the outgoing CEO stays in place for a while or an interim CEO is appointed, set a goal for finding the replacement in a matter of a few months.

Avoid litigation – Legal counsel may be needed to review the termination process to be certain all legal bases are covered.

A change of CEOs is a complex and emotional process. But when the board has identified a significant deficit in the CEO’s intellectual and/or managerial skills that may impede stability and/or further growth, it is of paramount importance that a new CEO be engaged. And it is the right time to make that happen.