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Nonprofit CEOs and Board Directors: How Expert Is Your CFO?

 

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:

http://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/management/23235-existence-of-a-reserve-fund-in-this-nonprofit-threatens-its-future.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Nonprofit’s Strategy Only Stating Ambitions Rather Than Solving Problems?

 

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. 

Strategy Results

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. 

* https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/why-bad-strategy-is-a-social-contagion

 

** https://nonprofitquarterly.org/using-imperfect-metrics-well-tracking-progress-and-driving-change/

What Nonprofits Can Do To Maintain Liquidity

What Nonprofits Can Do To Maintain Liquidity

By: Eugene Fram    Free Digital Image

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.

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How Nonprofit Boards Can Support Management & Staff and Refrain From Micromanaging!

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.

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The Search For a New Nonprofit CEO Needs To Be Realistic

 

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. 

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Nonprofits Can Build a Stronger Brand With Internal Marketing

 

Nonprofits Can Build a Stronger Brand With Internal Marketing

By: Eugene Fram     Free Digital Image

Nonprofit branding is an important topic to nonprofit board members and managers with nonprofits wanting to differentiate their services, images and reputations. Some organizations are spending substantial dollars to assess and build their brands.

Most nonprofits with which I have had contact are not aware whether not all their employees and perhaps some board members are brand loyal to their nonprofit organization. Many independent contributors (accountants, counselors, social workers, trade association executives, etc.), who work for nonprofits, see their loyalties as being related to their professions not their employing organizations.

 I co-authored several articles to explore the issue of employee brand loyalty with commercial firms. * I would like to review some of those finding to show that nonprofit management also constantly needs to assess whether or not employees and board members are receiving positive brand messages related to the organization’s mission, vision and values. This should be the outcome of an internal marketing effort. The impact for internal marketing should be to enlist every employee and board member to become a brand champion for the nonprofit.

Reasons for Rejection

“The results of (our study) indicate the two most prevalent perceptions relating to low employee … behavior were (a) a lack of pride in the product and (B) a sense that the product is unaffordable. “ … This suggests that managers need to determine the level of product pride in mission, vision and values when the term commercial term, “products,” is translated to nonprofits.” They must motivate employees to take pride by celebrating professional awards and reviewing honest client satisfaction data and case studies, especially those that show how the organization has contributed to individuals and society.

In terms of affordability, the internal marketing effort needs to show how clients have benefited long term. This is typical of university internal marketing that focuses on successful graduates who have made societal contributions. This program is especially important where the university is not nationally known but has some special educational benefit to offer.

Quality & Features

“Internal marketing campaigns (often) may rely too much on appeals to employee loyalty or self-interest, thereby missing the opportunity to convert the more skeptical persons on the payroll. …These findings imply that employers need to, where possible,continually educate employees (and board members) on the comparative advantages of their brands involving outcomes of mission, vision and values.” Comparisons of impacts of the local organization with those of others nationally can be helpful. For example, professional organizations often publish data that make interesting comparisons.

Values, Reliability and Prestige.

“One way to deal (with the prestige) issue is to inform employees and board members how the (nonprofit’s) standards compared to the (professional field) standards.” This can be done in two ways. One is to add the annual IRS 990 report to the organization’s website. Another approach is to issue a press release when the organization is re-accredited by an outside organization. At this time, when transparency is becoming increasingly important, management even might want to present a detailed debriefing on important reports to the board and employees as a way to discuss and challenges and strengths.

Changing Perceptions

“Management needs to survey employees and board members to fully understanding their perceptions of the organization’s mission, vision and values. Even having a few misconceptions circulating can be harmful to the brand.” For example one nonprofit recreational facility determined that several members of their board and their families were using a competitor’s facilities. In several instances, there was little they could do about it, but it is important to understand the reason and to try to reduce the negative impact on its brand image. On the other hand, substantial positive changes might occur with the proper internal marketing.

Summary

“One responsibility of management might be to develop venues for employees and (board members) to become more comfortable in communicating their positive attitudes to friends and relatives. There’s also significant potential for brand-loyal employees (and board members) to act as brand champions After all, high enthusiasm within the ranks of employees and directors brings impressive dividends.”

• *Eugene H. Fram & Michael S. McCarthy (2004), “What’s Not to Like? If employees aren’t buying your brand, it important to find why,” Marketing Management, July-August, pp. 36-40.
• *Fram & McCarthy (2003), “From Employee to Brand Champion,” Marketing Management, January-February, pp. 25-29

 

Are Your Board and Staff Ready For Change?

Free Digital Image

Are Your Board and Staff Ready For Change?

By: Eugene Fram               Free Digital Image

“Ideally, change takes place only when is “a critical mass of board and staff want … it. A significant … portion of leadership must realize that the status quo won’t do” * Based on my experiences, this ideal is rarely achieved because:

  • The CEO needs to support the changes being suggested and/or mandated by a majority of the board.   But, if not fully invested in the change, he/s can accede to board wishes for action but move slowly in their implementations. The usual excuse for slow movement is budget constraint.

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NONPROFITS NEED A BRAND THAT RESONATES!

NONPROFITS NEED A BRAND THAT RESONATES!

By: Eugene Fram       Free Digital Photo

How do people see your organization? Is your nonprofit clearly perceived, and the unique nature of its work, fully understood in the community or industry?

Nonprofit board members occasionally talk about the organizational brand image but rarely take tangible steps to define it. Yet the creation of a strong brand is a major factor in generating public respect, support and significant funding sources. Potential donors need to believe implicitly in the impact of the nonprofit on its clients. They also need to understand the realities implied in the brand image that fail to match the realities of the organization’s operations. For example, some family services agencies (actually multi-human service groups), have long struggled with a brand perception that they offer only family reproduction services.

Following are some guidelines that may help improve a current image or further clarify the mission which fuels the dedicated efforts of boards, staff and volunteers:

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THE ART OF THE “ASK”: SIX TACTICS FREQUENTLY IGNORED BY NONPROFIT BOARD MEMBERS, CEOS AND FUND DEVELOPERS

By: Eugene Fram       Free digital image

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. These are the skills to effectively interact with business executives like those holding C-Suite positions. These senior managers value evidence that the nonprofit representatives have “done their homework.” Pre-meeting preparation must include generating information on the executive (s’) professional and career background(s) that is readily available from LinkedIn. Also it is necessary to have some information about the challenges the firm or its industry are encountering. This level of preparation helps set a basis for better communications and managerial discussions that C-Suite personnel value.

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Once Again! What Are the Best Risk Levels for Your Nonprofit’s Investments in a COVID 19 environment and after it?

 

Once Again! What Are the Best Risk Levels for Your Nonprofit’s Investments in a COVID 19 environment and after it?

By Eugene Fram

Some nonprofits have significant investment accounts. The following are some guidelines to help develop investment policies during and after COVID 19. These funds may have been accrued through annual surpluses/donations or have been legally mandated to cover future expenditures through a reserve account.

  1. How does your committee define risk, and how much are you willing to take? *  Most nonprofit by-laws require a nonprofit to conservatively manage and invest its funds. This give the investment committee a wide range of policies to employ.

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