nonprofit fraud

Nonprofit CEOs and Board Directors: How Expert Is Your CFO?

 

Nonprofit CEOs and Board Directors: How Expert Is Your CFO?

By: Eugene Fram        Free Digital Image

When hiring a chief financial officer (CFO), nonprofit organizations often find themselves with a major challenge, since many financial and accounting functions and compliances are identical with those of for-profit organizations. To compete, the nonprofits may need to offer higher salaries than typical for nonprofit organizations. Some may trim the level of expertise required to fill the position.  They hire a person with a bookkeeping background when the organization needs somebody with financial analysis skills.  This is a dangerous move, especially when the organization is growing. It is difficult to terminate a financial person who is satisfactory for a startup, but isn’t able to navigate the challenges of rapid growth.  Also it is a continuing challenge for the Board and CEO, to make certain that the person in the position now has the requisite skills.  A mistake by a person who is not current with financial changes and compliances can make a major error that will harm the organization’s reputation, leading to a board restructuring and/or firing the CEO.

Both the nonprofit CEO and the board need to assess the CFO’s expertise annually by:

*Asking knowledgeable board members if they are receiving financial data and analysis in a format helpful for decision-making.

*Having an executive session with the external auditors yearly to obtain the firm’s assessment of the expertise of all financial personnel with whom they had have contact.

*Keeping track of reports that are submitted late. Something might be radically wrong. (I know of one case where the Board and CEO were only receiving a subsidiary report intermittently. The problem was the data reported involved old accounts that should have been written off months ago. The organization had to hire forensic accountants to determine what needed to be done to resolve the situation. The board terminated the CFO and then the CEO.)

*Making certain all financial personnel take two weeks vacation each year, so that a substitute needs to handle the duties.

*Having the CEO review the CFO’s expertise annually with knowledgeable board members, external accountants or others.  Acknowledging the growth point when the nonprofit needs a CFO with analytical abilities as opposed to bookkeeping ones.  

*Reviewing the causes for a high turnover rate among financial personnel.

*Providing local financial support for the  CFO and others to stay current with accounting and compliance regulations. 

For a current case of a board that evidently failed to adhere to such guidelines see:

http://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/management/23235-existence-of-a-reserve-fund-in-this-nonprofit-threatens-its-future.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT NONPROFIT & TRUSTEE BOARD MEMBERS HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW.

By Eugene Fram        Free Digital Image

A blog developed by an internationally known  board expert* raises some pertinent governance questions mainly targeted to for-profit boards. Following are my suggestions how these questions could apply to nonprofit and trustee boards. In addition, field examples show what happened when the questions had to be raised in crises situations.

Does bad news rise in your organization?
“You may be the last to know.” For example, the board of a human services organization knew that the professional staff was not happy with a new ED with an authoritarian management style, but the board felt it needed to give him a chance to modify his style. Board members didn’t know that the staff  professionals had been meeting with a union organizer for nine months.
A labor election resulted, with the professional staff agreeing to work under a trade union contract.

Do your CEO & CFO have integrity?
“If the CEO or CFO holds back, funnel information, manages agendas, is defensive or plays…. cards too close to the, vest, this is a warming sign.” For example, a CFO was delinquent in submitting a supplementary accounts receivable financial report. The board and CEO accepted his excuses, but the data, when submitted, had a significant negative impact on the financials. Both the CEO and CFO lost their positions.  Should the board have also accepted some responsibility for the crisis?  

Do you understand the (mission) and add value?
The board members need to seriously answer this question:
If this organization were to disappear tomorrow, who would care?

Do you know how fraud can occur in your (nonprofit)?
Common wisdom prevails that there is little for-profit or nonprofit boards can do avoid fraud. To review nonprofit boards actions that can be taken, especially for medium and small size nonprofit boards, see; Eugene Fram & Bruce Oliver (2010) “Want to Avoid Fraud? Look to your Board,” Nonprofit World, September/October, pp.18-19.

Do you compensate the right behaviors?
“You are at the helm as board members. Whatever you compensate, management will do.”
Be certain the organization is compensating for outcomes and,more importantly, today impacts. Too often compensation is given for completing processes that are not tied to client impacts

Do you get disconfirming information?
Management is only one source of information. With the agreement of management, visit privately with people below the management level. Set a Google Alert for the name of the organization to see what others on the Internet are saying about your nonprofit’s relationships.

Do you get exposures to key (operational areas) and assurance functions?
“Bring key people into the boardroom, without Power Points. See how they think on their feet. It is good for succession planning and is an excellent source of information.”

Do you get good advice and stay current?
“Bring tailored education into the board room and stay on top of emerging developments. “ This is especially important for the nonprofit directors or trustees who serves on a board that is out of their area of expertise. For example, bankers might serve on a hospital boards.

Do you meet with (stakeholders) – apart from management?
Board members need to join with management in meeting key funders occasionally to determine if their expectations are fully met and what the board might do to foster a continuing relationship. This lets funders know that the board is involved over-viewing the organization’s outcomes and impacts.

*Richard Leblanc, “The Board’s Right to Know and Red Flags To Avoid When You Don’t.” http://www.boardexpert.com/blog, September 14, 2012
Note: Bold & quoted items are from the above blog.

 

Must Nonprofits Develop Employee Benefits That Substitute For Annual Raises?

Must Nonprofits Develop Employee Benefits That Substitute For Annual Raises?

By: Eugene Fram                      Free Digital Image

An analysis in the Washington Post reports that a tsunami-style change has been taking place in the manner in which United States employees are being paid—benefits are being offered in place of annual salary increases. (http://wapo.st/1MwoIBZ) Driving the change are the needs of a substantial portion of millennials who appreciate immediate gratifications in terms of bonuses and perks, such as extra time off and tuition reimbursement. Employers like the arrangement because they can immediately reward their best performers without increasing compensation costs. Example: One sales employee spent weeks reviewing dull paperwork, was very diligent in the process and was given three extra days of paid leave. She said, “I think everybody would like to make more, but what I liked about it was the flexibility.”

(more…)

The Possibility Of Fraud – A Nonprofit Board Alert

The Possibility Of Fraud – A Nonprofit Board Alert

By: Eugene Fram              Free Digital Image

“According to a Washington Post analysis of the filings from 2008-2012 … of more than 1,000 nonprofit organizations, … there was a ‘significant diversion’ of nonprofit assets, disclosing losses attributed to theft, investment frauds, embezzlement and other unauthorized uses of funds.” The top 20 organizations in the Post’s analysis had a combined potential total loss of more than a half-billion dollars. *

One estimate, by Harvard University’s Houser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, suggests that fraud losses among U.S. nonprofits are approximately $40 billion a year. **

Vigilant nonprofit boards might prevent many of these losses. Here’s how:

(more…)

When a CEO Exits (or should)—what are the Board’s Succession Options?

When a CEO Exits (or should)—what are the Board’s Succession Options?

By Eugene Fram                  Free Digital Image

CEOs of for-profit and nonprofit organizations typically come and go. Some executives my be retained for an extended period and may be highly valued for their demonstrated skills and accomplishments. One CEO I know has reached a 30 year anniversary and is still innovating. Other CEOs, including organization founders, may remain on the job past the point of growth. The nonprofit environment can be a comfortable workplace—a board member I once interviewed remarked that his long-serving CEO had a great “deal.” He meant the nonprofit wasn’t even close to its potential   I’ve even encountered CEOs who admit that they can run the organization on automatic, convinced that new challenges will be similar to those of the past. (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…)

Why Are Some Nonprofit Boards Missing the Mark? What to Do?

Why Are Some Nonprofit Boards Missing the Mark? What to Do?

By Eugene Fram     Free Digital Image

Stephen Miles of the Miles group (http://milesgroup.com) recognizes that many business boards are coming up short in performance. As founder and CEO of a strategy and talent development agency, Miles has identified five areas of potential improvement for commercial boards. I believe these categories are also quite relevant to nonprofit board operations in the following ways:

Knowledge Gaps

Many new board directors are in the dark about some of the operating issues facing their organizations. Such information gaps are less prevalent in trade and professional associations because most board members are in associated fields or are in practitioner positions. However, new directors of community based charitable organizations and human services focused nonprofits should be much more attuned to discussions at initial board meetings. Current methods of orienting new directors don’t seem to be doing the job. This is critical for those boards with rapid turnover. For example, one board with which I am acquainted has 80% of its membership turnover  with no more than 18 months tenure.

Orientations can take a variety of forms, ranging from brief pre-board session to pre-meeting phone calls from the CEO or Board Chair. These updates will provide the new board member with information that should make his/her participation in the board meeting more meaningful.

Lack of Self-Assessment

“When it comes to the (business) boards (assessing their) own performance, this is often done by using the check-in-the box exercise, (along) with some form of gentle peer review,” reports Miles. In the nonprofit environment, board self-assessments are not usually a priority because nonprofit directors often have time constraints. In addition, nonprofits need to more broadly examine qualitative outcomes, such as community impacts. But business boards are also beginning to move in the same direction, and at this time seem to be behind nonprofits!.*

The media, Internal Revenue Service, foundations and accreditation organizations are asking for more information and transparency to ensure that nonprofits have quality processes to overview management impacts. Few nonprofit boards can afford rigorous third party directed board self-assessment, the gold standard. However a self-review deficit might leave some board members with significant personal liabilities.** Consequently, it is my personal opinion that nonprofit boards need to make good faith efforts to have reasonable self-reviews, understanding that management and board members may hesitate to negatively reflect on volunteer directors been poor decision makers.

Self-Delusion

“Management Capture” occurs when a board too readily accepts a delusional view from management that organizational performance is significantly better than reality. As a result, some board self-examinations may take place only after a crisis has been resolved. So it is mandatory that the boards develop rigorous impact measures, both quantitative and qualitative by which to judge organizational and board performance. Models for self-board assessments are available from professional groups and consultants.

Recruitment Shortcomings & Board Inexperience

Miles maintains that most for-profit directors lack real experience in succession planning: this is also true of nonprofit directors. Even in for-profit boards where a chief executive is temporarily incapacitated, there often is no plan for interim succession. Plus there is always the possibility that a CEO will leave quickly for a variety of reasons. Planning for his/her unanticipated exit should be an ongoing board concern.

One root cause for having a nonprofit culture of board inexperience is that often there are too few directors who have served on other for-profit or nonprofit boards and know how to be role models for newer recruits. Also, normally serving one or two terms, lasting three years, some experienced nonprofit board members may not be motivated to serve in this role because there are no financial incentives offered. However, as demonstrated in the Penn State debacle, a director’s repetitional risks can be substantial. How a board evaluates and improves its organizational talent pool is critical to performance. Miles characterizes the optimal board as composed of ” … directors who are active in their roles engaging individually and collectively (to engage with) other directors and (overview) management.” It is a tall order in today’s nonprofit environment.

For-profit organizations or nonprofit organizations, in my opinion, have five identical basic board guidelines. For Deloitte Partners, a worldwide accounting and financial advisory firm, these constitute board responsibilities that can’t be delegated to management. The board has responsibilities to have: a viable governance structure, annual assessments of (board and) organizational performance, driven strategic planning, improved management talent and assured organizational integrity.

A relentless pursuit of these lofty goals will enable nonprofits to be “on the mark.”

*For nonprofit qualitative outcomes, see: Jerry Talley & Eugene Fram (2010) “Using Imperfect Metrics Well: Tracking Progress & Driving Change,” Leader to Leader, winter, 52-58. For commercial boards see: Emily Chasan, (2012), “New Benchmarks Crop Up in Companies’ Financial Reports,” CFO Journal Section, Wall Street Journal, November 11th,

** For examples, see the Intermediate Sanctions Act, Section 4958 of the Internal Revenue Service Code. Also see the Expanded IRS 990 form guidelines for board structure and performance–38 questions related to nonprofit governance.

The Succession Dilemma: Why Do Nonprofit Boards Fail to Plan Ahead?

The Succession Dilemma: Why Do Nonprofit Boards Fail to Plan Ahead?

By: Eugene Fram              Free Digital Image

There are many types of crises common to an organization. But one event seems to trigger a large proportion of the ensuing trauma. It frequently happens when a CEO or another top manager retires, resigns or leaves for other reasons.   The flow of leadership is about to be disrupted and there is no viable replacement for the departing executive.

This transitional panic happens in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) recently reported that 50 % of public company directors concede that CEO succession planning needs to be improved. * In the nonprofit environment, only 27% actually have succession plans to replace a suddenly departing executive. ** This demonstrates the low priority nonprofits place on over-viewing talent succession to prepare for unexpected vacancies.

Here are some insights (in italics) from the NACD report that are applicable to nonprofit succession planning, be it management talent overview or implementing the replacement process. (more…)

The Enron Debacle, 17 years Ago—2018 Lessons for Nonprofit Boards?

The Enron Debacle, 17 years Ago—2018 Lessons for Nonprofit Boards?

By: Eugene Fram                Free Digital Image

In 2001 Enron Energy collapsed due to financial manipulations and a moribund board. It was the seventh-largest company in the United States. Andrew Fastow, the former CFO and architect of the manipulations served more than five years in prison for securities fraud. He offered the following comments to business board members that, in my opinion, are currently relevant to nonprofit boards. (http://bit.ly/1JFGQ6T) Quotations from the article are italicized.

One explanation of his downfall was he didn’t stop to ask whether the decisions he was making were ethical (moral).

Nonprofits directors and managers can find themselves in similar situations. One obvious parallel is when a conflict of interest occurs.  In smaller and medium sized communities, it is wise to seek competitive bids, especially when th purchase may be awarded to a current or former board member or volunteer.

Board members and managers themselves can be at personal financial peril, via the Intermediate Sanctions Act, if they wittingly or unwittingly provide an excess salary benefit to an employee or an excess benefit to a volunteer or donor. Examples: The board allows an above market salary to offer to the CEO. Also the board allows a parcel of property to be sold to a volunteer or donor at below market values.  See: https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/intermediate-sanctions

One subtle area of decision-making morality centers on whether a board’s decision is immoral by commission or omission. Examples: In its normal course of client duties, the board allows managers to travel by first class air travel. Obviously, resources that are needed by clients are being wasted and morally indefensible. On the other hand the moral issue can come in to play, if the nonprofit is husbanding resources well beyond what is needed for an emergency reserve. The organization, in a sense, is not being all it can be in terms of client services or in seeking additional resources. Overly conservative financial planning, not unusual in nonprofit environments, can result in this latter subtle omission “moral” dilemma. Overtly, universities with billions of dollars on their balance sheets have been highlighted as having the issue, but I have occasionally noted smaller nonprofits in the same category.

He (Fastow) said he ultimately rationalized that he was following the rules, even if he was operating in the grey zones (area).

There can be grey zones for nonprofits. Example: IRS rules require that the nonprofit board be involved in the development of the annual Form 990 report. But what does this involvement mean—a brisk overview when the report is finished, a serious discussion of the answers to the 38 questions related to corporate governance, a record in the board minutes covering questions raised and changes suggested, etc.? A nonprofit boards needs to make a determination on which course is appropriate.

Boards implementing government-sponsored contracts can get into grey areas. Example: Some contracts require the nonprofits to follow government guidelines for travel expenses. I wonder how many nonprofit audit committees are aware of their responsibilities to make certain these guidelines are followed?

According to Fastow, a for-profit director can ask the wrong question—“Is this allowed?” A nonprofit director can make the same mistake. Instead, in my opinion, the better question for a nonprofit should be “Will this decision help the organization to prosper long after my director’s term limit?”

As Fastow did, human service boards can invite trouble if they falsely rationalize an action as being taken for client welfare, and then conclude they are following the rules.

Mr. Fastow said one way to start changing an entrenched culture is to have either a director on the board, or a hired adviser to the board, whose role is to question and challenge decisions.

Nonprofit directors are often recruited from friends, family members and business colleagues, etc. This process creates an entrenched board.

When elected to the board, a process begins to acculturate the new person to the status quo of the board, instead making best use of the person’s talents. Example: An accountant with financial planning experience will be asked to work with the CFO on routine accounting issues, far below her/h professional level. One answer is to accept Fastow’s suggestion and to appoint a modified lead director or adviser to a nonprofit board. (For details: see: http://bit.ly/13Dsd3v)

An old Chinese proverb states, “A wise man learns by his own experiences, the wiser man learns from the experiences of others. Nonprofit can learn a something from Andrew Fastow’s post conviction recollections to hopefully help avoid signifcnat debacles.

 

Can Nonprofit Management Usurp Board Responsibilities?

Can Nonprofit Management Usurp Board Responsibilities?

By Eugene H. Fram

On balance management will always have more information about the organization than volunteer board members. As a result, directors must be proactive in seeking information from management and a variety of other sources, even if they must involve employees other than senior management. Following are three field examples showing what has happened when boards failed to be proactive (more…)