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Does A New Nonprofit Board Director Really Understand Your Organization?  The New Board Member Nurturing Challenge!

Does A New Nonprofit Board Director Really Understand Your Organization?  The New Board Member Nurturing Challenge!

By: Eugene Fram       Free Digital Image

The careful nurturing of a new board member, whether for-profit or nonprofit, is critical. The pay-off of a robust orientation process is an informed and fully participating board director. The following are very similar occurrences in both for-profit and nonprofit boards:

The CEO of a transportation firm agrees to become a board director of a firm developing computer programs. He has risen through the transportation ranks with a financial background, but he knows little about the dynamics of the computer industry.

A finance professor is asked to serve on the board of a nonprofit school serving handicapped children. She has no children of her own and has never had any contact with handicapped children, social workers or teachers serving handicapped children.

In these similar cases, the new director needs to become reasonably conversant with a new industry or a new human service field in order to be able to better apply policy development skills, strategic planning skills and to allow generative thinking.

On nonprofit boards, the problem is exacerbated when the new director often is asked to immediately join a specific board committee without being able to understand the board perspectives and the organization’s mission vision and values. Following are ways in which the nonprofit board can resolve this problem:

  • Don’t appoint the new board member to committee until she has completed a board orientation program including a review of board procedures, attending several board meetings, has had visits with the staff, as they normally operate, and becomes alert to the major trends in the field. This ideally should take about six months assuming the director is employed full-time elsewhere.
  • During this time, the chief executive and board president should be available to visit with the new director as frequently as she wants in order to respond to questions.
  • Hopefully, the chief executive would informally meet the new director (and each established director) quarterly to review current issues and opportunities. In addition to the information presented at the board meetings, this will provide a better perspective of the board’s mission, vision and values.
  • Ideally, the board volunteer should attend one staff meeting and one outside professional meeting to acquire a feeling for the topics reviewed at these gatherings and the field terminology.
  • During the first year, a senior board member needs be seated next to the new person at meetings to act  as a “host” for the new director

If most of these actions can be accomplished within a six-month period, major blind spots are removed, and the new board member can then join a standing board committee. Now, reasonably understanding the organization and her own participation on the board, she has a background to make a substantial contribution for years to come.

 

 

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How Can Nonprofit Boards Overcome the Inertia of Certain Directors?

How Can Nonprofit Boards Overcome the Inertia of Certain Directors?

By: Eugene Fram

Making major changes in mission, board structure, management or other significant matters are difficult. The typical nonprofit board will be divided into several groups on the issue: 1) directors who want change, 2) directors opposed to change, some strongly opposed and 3) what I call “process directors,” persons uncomfortable with major decisions who always want more data or information before voting. (more…)

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 paper work, 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…)

What are the most productive types of relationships between board & staff?

What are the most productive types of relationships between board & staff?

By: Eugene Fram  Free Digital Image by Stuart Miles

In the 21st century, building transparency and trust are two critical elements for good governance. In nonprofit organizations, these elements take on additional importance because organizationally staff members may only be or two levels below the board. Consequently, nonprofit staffs are probably more attuned to board changes and directives than their counterparts in a business setting. With more frequent rotations of nonprofit board members, many staff members can feel insecure. They have observed some nonprofits at which new board members sometimes can quickly bring about detrimental changes–it is not unusual for community boards to limit vetting new board members to friends and family. (more…)

Big Data Are Great—But Imperfect Metrics Work for Nonprofit Boards!

 

Big Data Are Great—But Imperfect Metrics Work for Nonprofit Boards!

By Eugene Fram

Nonprofit boards need to expand their evaluations of nonprofit managers and their organizations adding more behavioral impacts * to their evaluations.

For example, a nonprofit might count the number of volunteers that have been trained. But boards must go to the next level in the 21st century.
In the case of volunteers, they must seek to understand the impacts on those trained. They need, for instance, to understand how well these volunteers are assisting clients and how they are representing the nonprofit to the clients. The training is a process, but it determines their relationships with clients and yields impact data.

Qualitative data must be developed to the next level, and the average nonprofit CEO will argue that he/she doesn’t have the staff or expertise to develop impact data. Engaging an outside organization to complete a simple project can cost thousands of dollars. (more…)

Mismanagement Causes Huge Agency Failure—A Word To The Wise Nonprofit?

Mismanagement Causes Huge Agency Failure—A Word To The Wise Nonprofit?

By Eugene Fram

Rarely do failed for-profit or nonprofit organizations get a posthumous review of what actually went wrong. The collapse of one of the largest nonprofits in the US, the Federal Employment Guidance Service (FEGS) of New York City, is a noteworthy exception. Details of the causes that led to the human service’s demise were aired widely throughout NY media. * This organization had a $250 million budget, with 1900 employees who served 120,000 households covering a range of mental health and disability services, housing, home care and employment services.

Following are my interpretations of what its board should have done to avoid such a tragedy.

Failure of nonprofits: Failure of small nonprofits is rampant for a wide variety of known reasons. For example, “Nonprofits tend to be more trusting of their employees and have less stringent financial controls than their for-profit counterparts.” **

Outside of fraud being involved, the FEGS failure demonstrates that no nonprofit is too big to fail, probably because of a lack of board due care. Boards have to be acutely aware of the professional financial competencies of their CFO and CEO or well-meaning people who naively believed that loans could be easily repaid. There should have been a well-documented financial l strategy. The nonprofit closed with $47 million in loans/liabilities/debts.

Symptoms of impending collapse: Clearly with $47 million being owed, common financial ratios should have alerted knowledgeable board members to the coming catastrophe. But in the nonprofit environment, it is not unusual to that find directors, even business executives, are unfamiliar with the fund accounting approach used by nonprofit organizations.

In addition, contracting city and state agencies failed in their reviews of the organization’s finances. However, some nonprofits, either intentionally on unintentionally, can saddle contract reviewers and directors with so much information that even the most conscientious can’t spot problems. (Humorously, directors in this category are referred to as “mushroom directors” because like growing mushrooms, they are kept in the dark an covered with excrement. But this type of tactic was successfully used against IRS auditors in the Madoff debacle.)

Government or Foundation Contracts: In accepting these contracts, nonprofits must be realistic about whether or not there is enough money to cover full costs. They can’t be blinded by what the contract can do for the organization’s client. If adequate overhead funding is not attached to one or more of these agreements, they eventually can cause bankruptcy, because the nonprofit eventually will have to borrow or seek additional donations to cover them.

How Nonprofit Boards Can Avoid Problems

Review Financials: Current financials need to be given to directors monthly, or at least quarterly if the board meets less often. The very detailed budget data can often be difficult for those without budget experience. At the least, everybody on the finance committee needs to be able to intelligently review the income statement and balance sheet. Also they need to be aware that funding accounting permits some unusual twists—food donations, for example, can be included in revenues, based on an estimate of their value. Consequently, cash revenues and expenditures need to be a focus for directors’ analysis.

Make certain that financials are delivered on timely and complete bases. Problem Example: One CFO didn’t submit accounts receivable reports for nine months because he said he was too busy to compile it. Neither the board nor the CEO demanded issuance of the report. When finally delivered, it was clear that the CFO was listing a substantial number of noncollectable accounts as active ones. Both the CFO and CEO were fired, and the nonprofit had to hired expensive forensic accountants to review the impact.

Gaps Between Revenues and Expenditures: This is the ultimate red flag, if not followed carefully. It may vary from period-to-period in a predictable pattern that everybody understands, but if the gap continues, say for four to six months, strong board action is necessary.

Adopt written financial policies: These are necessary to make sure all concerned with finances are on the same page. Since interpretation is often required in financial decisions, nothing should be left open to broad interpretation.

Contracts with governments, foundations and others: Make certain that reimbursements for indirect costs are included. If not included, have a benefactor ready to step in to cover the costs.

An old Chinese proverb, “A wise man (or woman) learns from his/h own experience. The wiser man (or woman) learns from the experiences of others.” One hundred twenty thousands households and individuals lost services from an 80 year old human service nonprofit. There is much to learn from the collapse of FEGS.

* https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/thought-leadership/what-we-learn-when-nonprofit-closes-its-doors

**https://www.blog.abila.com/nonprofit-fraud-facts-2016-global-fraud-study/

Going For Impact: A Non-Profit Blueprint For the Second Half of the Year  

 

Going For Impact: A Non-Profit Blueprint For the Second Half of the Year

By Eugene Fram     Free  Digiatl Image

For organizations and individuals, the end of the calendar year is the traditional planning period – the time used for self-assessment, strategizing and putting in place “game plan” for improvement and growth for the 12 months to come.

For many nonprofits, June 30th is the end of the fiscal and planning year. Yet the blueprint also offers the same opportunities to focus on improvement and growth.

But in today’s volatile, hyper-competitive and uncertain environment, this one-a-year exercise isn’t enough.

It just isn’t. Especially for nonprofits. And their boards of directors.

Here’s the good news: The year’s midpoint – upon us now – is a great point for an interim review. It’s a good time to review your game plan. Develop a vision goes beyond reviewing current budget projections against actuals and other compliance requirements.

I have identified five areas of focus – the last being a kind of “action plan” you can use to implement what’s of interest. Adopting just one of the many suggestions can yield a substantial return on investment.   They are: 

  • Your Leadership
  • Your Talent Pool
  • Your Fundraising
  • Your Impact Data
  • Your “Fix-It” Points

(more…)