Small experiments

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.

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Unwritten Protocols for Directors Can Boost Nonprofits’ Effectiveness

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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…)

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 Art of the “Ask”: Six tactics frequently ignored by nonprofit fund developers & CEOs

The Art of the “Ask”: Six tactics frequently ignored by nonprofit fund developers & CEOs

By: Eugene Fram       Free digital image

Most 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. *

  1. 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.

(more…)

Nonprofit Board Cultures Need To Be Defined

Nonprofit Board Cultures Need  To Be Defined

By: Eugene Fram     Free Digital Image

Over several decades of contacts with nonprofit boards, I have yet to find one that has spent any time trying to define the organization’s culture that delivers service. Yet every organization has one. It defines what the organization has done well and what needs to be changed. It can grow over years haphazardly or change quickly when new board members are elected or when a new CEO is appointed. Those newly appointed, for better or worse, can change the organization’s mission as well as its culture. Nonprofit staffs that work a few levels below the board and CEO organizationally are especially sensitive to cultural movements emanating from above. They know that a change in culture can affect their work and livelihood.

The reason that nonprofit boards rarely try to define the cultures of their organizations is that it is an amorphous subject. Ask a group of directors to define the culture of their board or the organization and quite different answers will be given. Yet there are commonalities that arise that can form the culture—conservative vs. liberal policies; legacy vs. future focused programs; operations are clearly defined vs. CEO dominance assumes board powers in a de facto manner; etc.  But cultures need to be defined:  Uber failed in the process, while  Microsoft has an ambition to transform Microsoft  from  “a know it all” to a “learn it all culture” *

I recently found a list of 12 attributes of a strong organizational culture. **  Following are six that I suggest that nonprofit boards should consider in assessing their needs of the organizations. My comments provide some practical ways that each can apply to nonprofit boards and organizations. (more…)

Once Again: How to Keep Nonprofit Board Members Informed.

Once Again: How to Keep Nonprofit Board Members Informed.

By: Eugene Fram

With high performing nonprofit organizations, board members will rarely be invited by the CEO to participate in operational decisions. As a result, management will always have more information than board members. Yet the board still needs to know that is happening in operations to be able to perform their overview process.
The name of the game is for the CEO to communicate the important information and to keep directors informed of significant developments. Still, there’s no need to clutter regular board meetings by reporting endless details about operations. (more…)