Small experiments

Nonprofits:”What Role Should Board Members Play in Overviewing Management /Staff Talent?”

Nonprofits:”What Role Should Board Members Play in Overviewing Management /Staff Talent?”

By: Eugene Fram    Free Digital Image

Nonprofit boards rarely develop an in-depth strategy for assessing its organization’s human capital. Some will keep informal tabs on the CEO’s direct reports to prepare for the possibility of his/her sudden departure or is incapacitated. Others –smaller organizations with fewer than 20 employees—need only a basic plan for such an occurrence.

Need for Strategy: In my view, maintaining a viable talent strategy to assess staff and management personnel is a board responsibility, albeit one that is often ignored. The latter stems from the constant turnover of nonprofit members whose median term of service is 4-6 years—hardly a lifetime commitment. Like for-profit board members whose focus is on quarterly earning results, their nonprofit counterparts are likely more interested in resolving current problems than in building sufficient bench strength for the organization’s long-term sustainability.

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Developing A Sustainable Nonprofit–Post Covid-19

Developing A Sustainable Nonprofit–Post Covid-19

By: Eugene Fram         Free Digital Image

An analysis of the current pandemic environment should be a clarion call for nonprofit board members. It can be summarized in a couple of sentences:

Great crises tend to bring profound social changes, …. . We seem to be at another point when society will make adjustments for good or ill. * 

As nonprofit board members or managers, are you ready to identify and confront these adjustments as they already have developed or will challenge your nonprofit within the next 10 years? Hopefully, a large portion of nonprofit boards will accept the challenge and begin strategic planning for the post Covid 19 period now!  

Board Challenges – Post Covid-19

As I view the situation, the pandemic has already brought about changes in four areas that can impact the long-term sustainability of a nonprofit. There are others that can be added to my four, for example Fund Development—but this topic has been well covered elsewhere. 

Advocacy 

Advocacy for Post Covid 19 needs to be more than an occasional Tweet or two. Some nonprofits will continue to advocate for issues that relate to its mission, vision and values. But they may have to take substantial stands on broader topics.

With 5G communications expanding the connections in the world, the post Covid-19 period will present opportunities for nonprofits to advocate, where appropriate, on social topics that may not be strictly germane to their mission—e.g., health care, social justice and “Me Too” issues.

At the least, each nonprofit should have reviewed policies that enable management and boards to respond quickly to pandemic generated movements that are not currently on the horizon.

Information Security

Board members have an obligation to make certain critical information is secure. It requires more specific policies than the requirement to have an insurance policy in the event a hacker steals a membership list.

Developing these policies requires some basic IT knowledge. If some board members need a “review” of these basics, the board should offer an educational opportunity to upgrade their knowledge. 

Generation Z (Gen Z) 

Gen Z, born between 1995 and 2015 (2020 in some reports) has already started to impact the workforce. The Gen Z population is currently 86 million and is expected to grow to 88 million in the next 20 years due to migration. **

In comparison with the millennial cohort, Gen Z:

  • Wants more autonomy and independence. A Gen Z staff will readily accept positions that allow them to work from home, especially if it yields a healthy work-life balance. This will cause nonprofit boards to review policies related to office space requirements while evaluating “at home” productivity. Some staff may choose to be located elsewhere in the United States or internationally.
  • Are less team-oriented than millennials. Being more competitive than the previous  generation, financial compensation is more important. They have been raised in some difficult economic times, and their Covid-19 experiences will no doubt heighten their motivations to seek higher financial compensation. To engage the best and the brightest of the Gen Z cohort at nonprofit salary scales, organizations will have one other major attraction. Nonprofits are mission (or purpose) driven, “Showing the positive impact their work will have on society can be (an attraction) for Gen Z when it comes to choosing a job.” ***

Cultural or Technical Vulnerabilities

These are the challenges that may be in an infant stage but can have significant impact on the organizations polices. The March of Dimes movement changed its focus to healthy moms and strong babies after the development of a polio vaccine. As psychiatric drugs improved, the boards and managements of a number of face-to-face counseling nonprofits declined or they broadened their missions. After simmering for years, the “Me Too” movement has caused colleges and universities to be modify their policies, sometimes in a rapid manner.

Many of these vulnerabilities can emerge quickly and affect a nonprofit’s sustainability. CEOs should lead with a visionary manner and boards need members who can think broadly to respond with financial or intellectual support.  This process has been described by a Harvard Law publication as future-proofing.**** “This involves thinking though the impact of today’s changes on future outcomes and future needs.” The authors admit asking management to take on this planning effort within unprecedented uncertainty may hinder its ability to react short term.   But they feel it is worth the risk to provide the challenge to management’s long-term thinking.

*https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/07/20/how-pandemics-wreak-havoc-and-open-minds

**https://knoema.com/infographics/egyydzc/us-population-by-age-and-generation-in-2020  

*** https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/hiring-generation-z/2019/how-to-hire-and-retain-generation-z

**** https://corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2020/07/26/the-boards-role-in-guiding-the-return-to-work/#:~:text=The%20board%20has%20a%20role,operations%20and%20growth%20moving%20forward.

6 Approaches to Innovation for Nonprofit Boards

6 Approaches to Innovation for Nonprofit Boards

By Eugene Fram                     Free Digital Image

The Bridgespan Group, supported by The Rockefeller Foundation,  completed an exciting research study. The results identified “six elements common to nonprofits with a high capacity to innovate” * Following are some suggestion how to implement these elements.

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Questions For Nonprofit Board Meetings—And Why They Are Needed 

Questions For Nonprofit Board Meetings—And Why They Are Needed 

My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions. – Peter Drucker 

By: Eugene Fram    Free Digital Image

Knowing the right questions to ask at a nonprofit board meeting is a critical part of a board member’s responsibility. Following is a list that, as a nonprofit director, I want to keep handy at meetings. * I also will suggest why I think each is important in the nonprofit environment. Compliance and overviewing management alone do not guarantee success.  

  • What is our one sentence strategy?: It needs be short to convey the essence of the impact the organization is creating—a brief abstract of your mission that is easy to understand. Example from my experiences: “We serve the homeless and seniors by helping them to sustain their lives with healthy food, housing and other support services.”
  • What is our organization’s 10-to-15 year dream?: Not a question frequently asked, but needed to fashion strategies in the intervening period. Traditionally board and management feel that such dreams don’t have practical applications. They do if passed to future generations of boards and managers. To foster continuing discussion, a good idea is to initiate a simple process, which is implemented every few years, to determine whether or not these “dreams” are still relevant and being accepted by board and staff.  
  • What are the non-negotiable core values that dictate how we behave?: Something that needs to be reviewed annually by a group of more visionary board people and management. In rapidly growing nonprofits these may not have been communicated to new managers and employees
  • What are the key priorities we need to focus on in the next three to five years?: Needed as a motivation to asses the impact of strategic planning. Too often operational issues instead of strategic items dominate meeting agendas.  
  • What are the key metrics or key performance indicators we will use to measure our progress? Both quantitative (e.g., financial, clients served) and qualitative (e.g., advocacy, community impact) need to be addressed. Qualitative impacts are much move difficult to access, and often they are not developed for the annual review. **
  • What kind of cash flow do we need to sustain and grow our organization?: A key indicator for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. The importance of strong cash flow is encompassed in the adage “cash is king.” Having cash puts the nonprofit in a more stable position with better buying power. While the nonprofit can borrow money at times, cash affords the organization greater protection against loan defaults or foreclosures. Cash flow is distinct from cash position. Having cash on hand is critical, but cash flow indicates an ongoing ability to generate and use cash. Nonprofits that include in-kind donations in their revenue streams have an obligation to separate cash vs. in-kind income for financial analysis. and annual reports to stakeholders.

All of these questions need to be reviewed annually, but in my experiences they rarely surface in board discussions.   

*https://mahlab.co/blog/associations-are-you-asking-your-members-the-right-questions/

**https://nonprofitquarterly.org/using-imperfect-metrics-well-tracking-progress-and-driving-change/#:~:text=To%20be%20more%20precise%20about,or%20cannot%20be%20precisely%20replicated.

Can Small Experiments Test Nonprofit Strategic Validity?

Can Small Experiments Test Nonprofit Strategic Validity?

By: Eugene Fram        Free digital image

When given a series of potential mission changes, modifications or opportunities, most nonprofit boards take the following steps: (1) Discuss alternatives (2) Develop working plans, board/staff presentations and funding proposals (3) All three usually are packaged into a three or five year strategic plan for implementation. Typically the process can take about six months to “get all stakeholders on board.” When something new is suggested, the conservative board and nonprofit management immediately respond, “Great idea, let’s consider it in the new strategic plan.” Results: It can take three to five years to implement the idea, assuming the plan actually gets off the shelf, not an unusual occurrence for nonprofit organizations!


Another alternative being implemented by some nonprofit is to use a rapid experimentation approach called Lean. “First developed for use in the for-profit world,(especially startup ventures) … the method focuses on new ideas for products/services through iterative experiments. Lean practitioners build simple prototypes ‘called minimum viable products/services (MVPs),’ …move quickly to get feedback on these items from constituents/stakeholders.” * As long as they have some positive iterations they continue to full product development.

Example:  The small software division of a larger firm suggested a program that it felt certain would have great marketability because of it perceived uniqueness.

As an initial part of a  Lean process, the software developers were required to present it personally to a small group of potential customers. As a result of the interviews, both marketing and development executives dropped it.



How Can Nonprofit Boards Utilize Lean Experimentation?

These lean experiments can be conducted at minimum costs and with small samples that initially may not be statistically significant. (For example, in the software case cited above, there were only four customers in the sample, but they were significant ones.)

Not being able to afford the time and money to develop excellent metrics, nonprofit boards, especially in assessing ambiguous and qualitative impacts, need to initially glean what they can from the use of imperfect metrics. (http://bit.ly/OvF4ri). The metrics can be anecdotal, subjective, interpretive or qualitative. For most nonprofits, it is a great leap forward from doing nothing or taking years to implement action. Also losing time invested in offering a client centered opportunity? The most critical requirement is that the directors and management agree that the process is reasonable and that outcomes from each experimental iteration constitute fair and trustworthy information.

A Current Example

There seems to be a growing body of knowledge of how to apply the art of lean in the nonprofit environment. * The use of lean to assess the proper venues to select social media by which to communicate with donors and other stakeholders is an example. All agree that the use of various social media venues is difficult to assess for both for-profits and nonprofits.

Here, as an example, is what might be done to obtain some directions on using social venues to reach millennials. Charitable nonprofits are seeking ways to communicate with this group as potential volunteers and future donors. Instead of a board waiting to take action on a broad social media strategy before taking some action on social media, it might start with some small-scale, low cost experiments. The information it obtains from one or two MPVs would be useful in backing into a comprehensive social media strategy when a new strategic plan is needed. But an early MPV also might provide some information for immediate action.

Summary: Like any management process lean is not a panacea for either the business or nonprofit sectors. It has its advantages and disadvantages and will not replace more rigorous process, when required–longitudinal studies and strategic planning. However, its experimental design feature can help drive the nonprofit decision process to be more effective and efficient. That alone can help to recruit more able directors, who because of time-compressed lifestyles, now are impatient with the traditional pace of nonprofit decision-making.

* For a robust report on the use of lean in the nonprofit sector see:  (http://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_promise_of_lean_experimentation)

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.”

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Measuring Nonprofits’ Impacts: A Necessary Process for the 21st Century

Measuring Nonprofits’ Impacts: A Necessary Process for the 21st Century

By Eugene Fram      Free Digital Image

 

Unfortunately, outcomes and impact are often unrelated, which is why a program that seems to produce better outcomes may create no impact at all. Worse, sometimes they point in opposite directions, as can happen when a program works with harder-to- service populations resulting in seemingly worse conditions, but (has) higher value-added impact. … Rigorous evaluations can measure impact (to a level of statistical accuracy), but they are usually costly (a non starter for many nonprofit), difficult and slow. * But how do the medium and small size nonprofits measure actual results in the outside world such as enhanced quality of life, elevated artistic sensitivity and community commitment? (more…)

Can A Nonprofit Board Member Ever Wear Two Hats?

Can A Nonprofit Board Member Ever Wear Two Hats?

By Eugene Fram.                  Free Digital Image

Although this is not a good idea for nonprofit organizations, it is not an unusual occurrence, especially among start-ups. A director in a start-up nonprofit will need to assume some staff responsibilities as a volunteer. But he/s will need to organizationally report to the CEO. In the event the position ceases to be a volunteer one, i.e.,the person wearing the two hats is compensated for the staff work. he/s should resign the board position. With two hats, a director would be in conflict-of-interest on important matters like salaries. Although some state statutes specifically forbids a director to hold multiple roles, enforcement of the statues is haphazard, especially among smaller nonprofits that are short of people to carry out staff functions.

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How Is Your Nonprofit Board Adjusting To “The Great Resignation”?

How Is Your Nonprofit Board Adjusting To “The Great Resignation”?

By: Eugene Fram                Free Digital Image

An article in The New York Times (12/23/2021) reports, In Louisville Ky, nonprofit groups are losing social workers to better-paying jobs at Walmart and McDonalds.  *  With 34.5 million American job resignations reported by, August 31, 2021, it’s reasonable to estimate that by the end of 2021 about 46 million Americans will have left their current jobs during the past year. This is about 25% of the American work force. ** The movement has been named “The Great Resignation.”      

Reasons for change range widely.  Beyond salary, some families may have found living on one salary acceptable, others may have moved to rural areas for quieter living, still others may have used a lay-off bonus to have time to get away from an authoritarian boss. ***          

It appears this robust employment turnover will continue. As a result, nonprofit boards, within their overviewing responsibilities, must focus on recruiting and retaining organization talent, like few nonprofit boards have done in the past. (more…)

Once Again: How to Keep Nonprofit Board Members Informed.

Once Again: How to Keep Nonprofit Board Members Informed.

By: Eugene Fram.            Free Digital Image

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 board members informed of significant developments. Still, there’s no need to clutter regular board meetings by reporting endless details about operations.

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