Can Nonprofit Boards Afford To Underinvest In Management Leadership Development?
By: Eugene Fram: Free Digital Image
McKinsey & Company has published a substantial nonprofit study: To better understand the state of (nonprofit) leadership in the US social sector… The findings suggest that chronic underinvestment in (management) leadership development for 337,000 small or midsize nonprofits,..(may risk) the sector’s capabilities to fulfill emerging missions effectively and to adapt to fast-changing demands.
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:
Is Your Nonprofit’s Strategy Only Stating Ambitions Rather Than Solving Problems?
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
McKinsey & Company in a recent article interviewing author and academic Richard Remelt discusses this strategy question for business organizations.* Following is my estimation how the article’s information might be applied to the nuances encountered in nonprofit strategy development.
In evaluating strategies, nonprofit boards often only use the easier to measure results, for examples, membership size and financial ratios.
But progress for nonprofits often also must be measured in qualitative formats. “Not being able to afford the time and money to develop excellent qualitative metrics (e.g., enhanced life quality, community commitment), to glean whatever they can from using imperfect metrics.” **
Richard Remelt suggests there is a big difference between strategies developed for actions versus ambitions. My experiences with nonprofit strategy development suggest that many nonprofits focus on ambition rather than the problems to be solved by the next three-year plan. He calls a strategy based on ambition “bad strategy.” “Bad strategy is almost a literary form that uses PowerPoint slides to say, ‘Here is how we will look as a company in three years.’ That is interesting, but it’s not a strategy.”
For nonprofits, his analysis also relates to the difference between program outcomes and program impacts. For example, A human services strategy can have good program outcomes but fail to have client impacts because basic causes aren’t/can’t be addressed.
Board Member Motivation
The median nonprofit board member serves a term ranging from four to six years. In contrast, the average tenure for a public board member is 9.7 years.
Assuming this frequent turnover, the nonprofit director/trustee will only be involved with one strategic planning cycle. Even with a board member highly dedicated to the mission’s objectives, the brief tenure structure can dampen motivations to rigorously participate in strategic planning.
I have seen this evolve frequently, especially when the board approves the performance of a “mind-the-store executive director,” as opposed to an “entrepreneurial” type. Operationally, the former executive director can be described as one seeking stability over innovation. She/h can produce modest income increases with balanced budgets, often supported by substantial legacy financial endowments.
Involving Staff in Strategic Planning and Other Insights
Rumelt suggests limiting the number of persons involved in strategic board planning. For larger nonprofits, this might only include senior and/or division management. For smaller and midsized nonprofits, this might involve management and some professional staff. Organizationally, in these nonprofits, the two groups may be only one or two levels apart.
Ask simple questions like: “If our organization were to disappear, who would miss us?” “If we were to establish a new agency, who among the staff, would we take with us?”
“Boards may not need strategy committees, but they just need a sense of best practice, just as ..(accountants).. have well-established best practice in accounting:” I agree that nonprofit boards do not need a standing strategy committee. The development and maintenance of the strategic plan is the joint responsibility of the CEO and Board Chair. Together they can use a simple maintenance device by relating most problem-solving efforts, generated in nonprofit board meetings to the strategic plan.
A Nonprofit Board Has A Problem With A Recently Hired CEO – What To Do? By: Eugene Fram. Free Digital Image
With some possible variations, is the following scenario one that is frequently repeated elsewhere?
• The nonprofit board had engaged, Joe, an experienced ED. The prior ED had been in place for 25 years, and was evidently unwilling to move to meet changing client needs. For example, the agency only offered counseling services five days a week, 9 am to 5pm, with hours extended to 8 pm on Thursday night. There were no client options for emergency calls during nights or during weekends.
It doesn’t take a pandemic to make a nonprofit question its capacity to survive. Events such as a loss of major funding, a damaged reputation, huge unpredicted expenses could swiftly reduce the lifeblood of the organization, plunging the nonprofit into deep concern for its long-term survival.
Any nonprofit CEO has the data to predict how long the organization can stay afloat without income. This, however, would be only one rough measure of the nonprofit’s liquidity. Board members need to take the discussion further. They need to realistically appraise total liquidly from fixed/variable expenses and income venues as they relate to mission accomplishment.
The Devil’s Advocate on a Nonprofit Board: Asset or Liability?
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
An unwritten rule for nonprofit board membership is that it is best to “go along to get along.” But sometimes a nonprofit director’s “no” vote to an action that has had inadequate discussion can allow him/h to avoid tax penalties that have been levied on other board members for lack of due care.
Stanford University research results indicate that groups with a lone minority dissenter outperform other groups where all members agree. In addition, these groups…”are more successful than (groups) in which all members disagree and fall prey to escalated emotional, difficult-to resolve (group) brawls “ *
The key to success, according to these data, is to,” … have a devil’s advocate (DA) on the nonprofit board. … This is a person or a small board minority that “has the sensitivity to see the differences, perceives them as conflict, and then communicates about the differences in non-confrontational ways.” **
How Nonprofit Boards Can Support Management & Staff and Refrain From Micromanaging!
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
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 board members 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.
The Search For a New Nonprofit CEO Needs To Be Realistic
By Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
Boardmember.com in its October 11, 2012 issue carries an op-ed item by Nathan Bennett and Stephen Miles titled, “Is your Board About to Pick the Wrong CEO.” Although targeted to for-profit boards, all of the five items listed in the article can be applied to nonprofit boards.
Once Again: How Should Nonprofits Conduct Board Evaluations?
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
Data from BoardSource show that only about 58% of boards have had “formal, written self-assessment of board performance at some point. Only 40% of all boards have done an assessment in the past two Years,” a recommended practice. With the rapid turnover of directors that nonprofit boards traditionally experience, this seems inexcusable. As a “veteran” nonprofit director, following is what I think can be done to improve the situation.
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.