How Prepared Are Board Members for the Challenges of the Nonprofit Culture?
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
Given that the typical tenure of a new board member is six years. And assuming that a new director’s intention is to make his/her unique contribution to the organization’s progress before he/S rotates off the board and is supplanted by another “new” director. With these factors in mind, I estimate that many volunteers enter the boardroom with little understanding of nonprofit culture. Even those who have served previously on business boards may initially spend valuable time in accommodating to the nuances of nonprofit practices and priorities before being poised to make contributions to the “greater good” that nonprofit create. Following are some areas that are endemic to nonprofits: (more…)
Nonprofit board members and managers have acquired a measured of savvy when it comes to raising funds for their organizations. They have learned that building trust with current and prospective donors is the key to maintaining meaningful support. Here are some overlooked tactics to further strengthen relationships. *
Show the donors “what’s in it for them:” Some development officers still lead by focusing on what is of interest to them—the construction of a new building, providing funds for the nonprofit’s strategic development plan, etc. But they often lack certain perspectives. These are the skills to effectively interact with business executives like those holding C-Suite positions. These senior managers value evidence that the nonprofit representatives have “done their homework.” Pre-meeting preparation must include generating information on the executive (s’) professional and career background(s) that is readily available from LinkedIn. Also it is necessary to have some information about the challenges the firm or its industry are encountering. This level of preparation helps set a basis for better communications and managerial discussions that C-Suite personnel value.
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.
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…)
Whenever the time is ripe to select a new nonprofit CEO, I think of the old joke that says “…every person looks for the perfect spouse… meanwhile, they get married.” By the same token, nonprofit directors seek perfection in a new ED/CEO– and find that they must “settle” for less. But there are certain definitive attributes that are essential to his/her success in running the organization. With the pressures of increasingly slim budgets, fund development challenges and the difficulty of recruiting high quality employees, the 21st century ED/CEO must be action oriented and come equipped with at least a modicum of the following abilities: * (more…)
How Nonprofit Boards Can Support Management & Staff and Refrain From Micromanaging!
By: Eugene Fram
The dilemma is common to nonprofit organizations. As start-ups, everyone aspires to do everything. Passion for the mission and determination to “get it right” imbue directors with the desire to do it all. But once the organization starts to mature, board roles shift to focus more broadly on policy and strategy issues. With the advent of qualified personnel to handle operations, there are many overview activities, sans micromanaging, available to board members. Following are some ways that boards can assist and demonstrate support for operations, CEOs and staffs without interfering. (more…)
The Nonprofit Board’s New Role In An Age of Exponential Change
By Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
Most nonprofit boards are being faced with huge pressures—reduced financial support, challenges in integrating new technologies, and difficulties in hiring qualified personnel at what are considered “nonprofit” wages. To survive long term, directors need to be alert to potential opportunities. These may be far from the comfort zones of current board members, CEOs and staff. (more…)