Reputation

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.

 

 

Advertisements

Board Member Networking Pays Off for Nonprofits

Board Member Networking Pays Off for Nonprofits

By Eugene Fram    Free Digital Image

Over decades of nonprofit board membership and consulting, I have rarely observed volunteer board members effectively networking with their peers to develop best board practices. Also rarely do I see them accompany management to regional or national conferences related to the nonprofit’s mission. These types of exposures are necessary to have groups of board members capable of making generative suggestions.

For directors who are willing and able to network, I suggest the following: * (more…)

Major Donor Has Remorse — Nonprofit Board/CEO Failed to Meaningfully Engage Him?

Major Donor Has Remorse — Nonprofit Board/CEO Failed to Meaningfully Engage Him?

After the gift is received, announced and celebrated, where does a nonprofit board and its management go from there? And whose job is it to see that the donor remains engaged and involved in the organization? These are questions that I have been thinking about after a friend brought facts of his donor experience to my attention.

A sad donor story begins with this friend who had been a longtime participant on the board of a nonprofit, eventually serving as board chair; he was also a modest contributor to the organization. During his tenure on the board, he developed a close professional relationship with the very innovative chief operating executive. Even after his term of board service had ended, the friendship between the two continued — as did the former director’s modest gifts to the nonprofit. In a decision to more generously support the organization’s innovative mission the now ex-board member made a substantial financial pledge — unrestricted — to be paid over several years. During the second year of the sustainable pledge the CEO left the organization and moved on to another job; the donor, unfortunately, was never contacted by the CEO’s successor. The donor’s calls to request phone appointments were returned weeks later and abruptly terminated. A staff member was delegated to service the donor, and other than letters of thanks for his annual contribution and copies of routine communications, there was no personal contact.

End of story. My friend, a business consultant, was suffering from donor’s remorse, more formally known as cognitive dissonance. He has not remained in touch with the nonprofit and knows little about any innovative activities. No surprise ending here — his strong support is now welcomed at a number of other nonprofits.

Whose job is it anyway??

After a major grant or gift has been received, many nonprofit delegate relations with the donors to the CEO, other senior officers or a development director. But there’s many a slip between cup and lip — and nonprofit boards have to be sure that future funding is not jeopardized. My thought is that a plan of board oversight might be a solution to unusual situations such as the one described above where the necessity of donor meaningful engagement probably slipped through the cracks. Here are my further thoughts on the subject:

• Since it is widely known that “people give to people, not causes,” the board should have policies or guidelines relating to interpersonal contacts with major donors. Who in management and/or board should be responsible for these contacts? How frequently should the contacts take place? And whose problem is it if things go wrong?

• The topic of major givers should be on the board agenda every three or six months at which time the contact person can update the board on the interaction or any problems that might occur.

• If the contact is a board member, he/she must be thoroughly briefed on the mission and management challenges. If it is a development director, he/she must be articulate on every subject relating to the organization.

• The CEO needs to make qualitative assessments of contact progress. When there is a change in executive leadership, the new CEO must immediately be briefed on the interpersonal status of relations with all major donors.

Donor Remorse should be nonexistent in nonprofit organizations — it can affect both current and future funding. In my opinion, the board should take a more active strategic and policy oversight role in this area. I recommend inclusion of the topic on your upcoming agenda.

Unwritten Protocols for Directors Can Boost Nonprofits’ Effectiveness

id-100214085

Unwritten Protocols for Directors Can Boost Nonprofits’ Effectiveness

By:  Eugene Fram                                        Free Digital Photo

Nonprofit boards are governed by a series of obligations —some are clearly defined as legal responsibilities such as financial actions. Others, however, are less clearly defined and relate to people who are, in some way, associated with the organization. Guidelines to these diverse interactions are not typically archived in policies but are important to the overall professionalism of the board. They include consideration of its: board structure, internal operations, recruitment methods and leadership style. (more…)

Once Again! Nonprofit CEO: Board Peer – Not A Powerhouse

Once Again! Nonprofit CEO: Board Peer – Not A Powerhouse

By: Eugene Fram

Some nonprofit CEOs make a fetish out of describing their boards and/or board chairs as their “bosses.” Others, for example, can see the description, as a parent-child relationship by funders. The parent, the board, may be strong, but can the child, the CEO, implement a grant or donation? Some CEOs openly like to perpetuate this type of relationship because when bad decisions come to roost, they can use the old refrain: the board made me do it.

My preference is that the board-CEO relationship be a partnership among peers focusing on achieving desired outcomes and impacts for the nonprofit. (I, with others, would make and have made CEOs, who deserve the position, voting members of their boards!) (more…)

Do Today’s Business Leaders Make Effective Nonprofit Directors?

Do Today’s Business Leaders Make Effective Nonprofit Directors?

By: Eugene H. Fram

The names of the new board nominees have been announced. They include several outstanding recruits from the business community. Will these new formidable directors perform well in the nonprofit environment? William G. Bowen, a veteran director in both the for-profit and nonprofit environments, raised the following questions about such beginnings in a 1994 article:* Is it true that well-regarded representatives of the business world are often surprisingly ineffective as members of nonprofit boards? Do they seem to have checked their analytical skills and their “toughness” at the door? If this is true in some considerable number of cases, what is the explanation? (more…)

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. (more…)