Associations

Nonprofit Board Disruption—A Board Member’s Reflections

 

Nonprofit Board Disruption—A Board Member’s Reflections

By: Eugene Fram

 

A tsunami can suddenly erupt on a nonprofit board. Or, instead, dissension can smolder within the organization, and finally burst into flame. In any case, polarization of opinion can damage an organization unless skillfully managed. It can occur on many fronts: fraud, sharp division of opinion, staff morale or any number of issues. In turbulent times such as the Covid 19 environment, latent problems can swiftly escalate and create chaos.

Disruption on the Board can only be resolved with strong leadership. In most cases, the Board Chair (BC) assumes the responsibility of addressing the problem. In my 30+ years of board/consulting participation, I have had a number of opportunities to view nonprofit boards in trouble. In this post, I share some of the suggestions that have “worked” to resolve problems and help rebuild broken organizations.

When the BC has to accept the challenge of uprooting the problem, he/she is likely to be met with some resistance. Board members may resign from the board in anticipation of a substantial increase in meetings and time involved. Some may be concerned that their management reputation could be sullied or personal financial liabilities leveled by the IRS, the possibility of lawsuits.

If the BC is unable to persuade the distressed board members that their expertise is needed to achieve the nonprofit’s mission, and has made them aware of the Directors & Officers’ Insurance policy which will protect them from financial liability, it will be difficult to recruit new people in this period of instability.

However, the BC can ask former board members to return for another term or two. In one case, a human service organization persuaded a board member about to be termed out to stay for another two years. He happened to be a senior vice president of a listed firm–and a valuable asset to the nonprofit.   He accepted the offer to stay and agreed to become BC of the weakened organization. During his extended tenure, he successfully recruited some former members dedicated to the organization’s mission. (more…)

21st Century Nonprofit Boards Need to be Proactive in Strategy Development

21st Century Nonprofit Boards Need to be Proactive in Strategy Development

By: Eugene Fram        Free Digital Image

Most Boards do not excel at strategy planning. In fact, when the subject is included on a meeting agenda, it usually produces a general lack of enthusiasm. A McKinsey study * cited weakness in for-profit boards dealing with the topic. And in my opinion, similar deficits are endemic to nonprofit boards whose response to strategic proposals is often simply– “ to review and approve.”

What causes these vital governing bodies to be passive when the future of the organization is obviously at stake? First, most nonprofit boards meet between 8 and 12 times a year, for what averages to about 1.5 hours monthly. With an agenda crammed with compliance issues and staff reports, there is little time left for board members to dive deeply into a discussion of future transformative efforts on behalf of the organization. When a new strategic plan is developed (that may only occur once every 3-5 years, with a limited perpsective), its implementation is not as rigorous as it should be—even in high performing boards. (more…)

The Devil’s Advocate on a Nonprofit Board: Asset or Liability?

The Devil’s Advocate on a Nonprofit Board: Asset or Liability?

By: Eugene Fram              Free Digital Image

An unwritten rule for nonprofit board membership is that it is best to “go along to get along.” But sometimes a nonprofit director’s “no” vote to an action that has had inadequate discussion can allow him/h to avoid tax penalties that have been levied on other board members for lack of due care.

Stanford University research results indicate that groups with a lone minority dissenter outperform other groups where all members agree. In addition, these groups…”are more successful than (groups) in which all members disagree and fall prey to escalated emotional, difficult-to resolve (group) brawls “ *

The key to success, according to these data, is to,” … have a devil’s advocate (DA) on the nonprofit board. … This is a person or a small board minority that “has the sensitivity to see the differences, perceives them as conflict, and then communicates about the differences in non-confrontational ways.” **

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Guidelines For Developing Authentic Nonprofit Board Leaders

Guidelines For Developing Authentic Nonprofit Board Leaders

By Eugene Fram               Free Digital Image

The problems of Wells Fargo and Enron  have provided negative examples for future leaders, according to William George, Senior Fellow at the Harvard Business School. As an antidote to these and others serious problems that have plagued business and nonprofits in the last several decades, he cites the movement towards Authentic Leadership. He further lists six guidelines to identify behaviors in such leaders. Following are my views on how his guidelines can be useful to directors and managers in the nonprofit environment. (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/authentic-leadership-rediscovered) (more…)

What Are the Best Risk Levels for Your Nonprofit’s Investments In A COVID 19 Environment And After It ?

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.

I have encountered ultraconservative nonprofits that invest all funds in several bank savings accounts that are protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC). Those that advocate this position feel that they don’t want to assume responsibility for loss of donor or membership funds that might occur, even temporarily, with investments in a mix portfolio of investment opportunities such as stock funds and/or rated bonds. (more…)

A Nonprofit Board Must Focus On Its Organization’s Impacts

A Nonprofit Board Must Focus On Its Organization’s Impacts

By: Eugene Fram        Free Digital Image

“One of the key functions of a (nonprofit) board of directors is to oversee (not micromanage) the CEO, ensuring that (stakeholders) are getting the most from their investments.” * State and Federal compliance regulations have been developed to make certain that boards have an obligation to represent stakeholders. These include the community, donors, foundations and clients, but not the staff as some nonprofit boards have come to believe. The failure of nonprofit boards, as reported almost daily by one blog site, ** shows something is wrong.   Following are some inherent problems. (more…)

What to Expect When The New Nonprofit CEO Is A Millennial!

What to Expect When The New Nonprofit CEO Is A Millennial!

By: Eugene Fram   Free Digital Image

The nonprofit’s CEO, a baby boomer or genXer, is about to retire or leave for another position. The board has engaged a new CEO a millennial person born after 1980. * His/h age is probably late 30s or possibly early 40s. What changes can the board expect from this new professional?

Following are my estimates based on some suggestions from psychologist, Dr. Jon Warner, http://bit.ly/1IFXK7u plus my 10 years experience collegiate teaching millennials. (more…)

Nonprofit Board Recruitment Process Calls For New Approach

id-10066412Free Digital Photo

Nonprofit Board Recruitment Process Calls For New Approach

By: Eugene Fram

One thing is certain about nonprofit director turnover is a board completely turns over about every four to six years. * With that fact in mind, both board and management need to act as interim “talent scouts” for potential directors who will be competent to tackle the sometimes unpredictable challenges of the future. Just as unexpected crises will confound the new president elect and his colleagues, those who occupy the nonprofit boardroom must be well equipped to deal with the inevitable issues that are certain to arise.  ** (more…)

Oversight Needs Tightening in Nonprofit Boards

Oversight Needs Tightening in Nonprofit Boards

By: Eugene Fram          Free Digital Image

Clearly the purpose of a nonprofit board is to serve the constituency that establishes it—be it community, industry, governmental unit and the like. That said, the “how” to best deliver those services is often not so clear. An executive committee, for example, can overstep its authority by assuming powers beyond its scope of responsibility. I encountered this in one executive committee when the group developed a strategic plan in an interim period where there was no permanent ED. The board then refused to share it with the incoming executive. In another instance, an executive committee took it upon itself to appoint members of the audit committee—including outsiders who were unknown to the majority on the board.

The fuzziness of boundaries and lack of defined authority call for an active nonprofit system of checks and balances. For a variety of reasons this is difficult for nonprofits to achieve:

  • A typical nonprofit board member is often recruited from a pool of friends, relatives and colleagues, and will serve, on a median average, for four to six years.   This makes it difficult to achieve rigorous debate at meetings (why risk conflicts with board colleagues?). Directors also are not as eager to thoughtfully plan for change beyond the limits of their terms. Besides discussing day-to-day issues, the board needs to make sure that immediate gains do not hamper long-term sustainability.
  • The culture of micromanagement is frequently a remnant from the early startup years when board members may have performed operational duties. In some boards it becomes embedded in the culture and continues to pervade the governmental environment, allowing the board and executive committee to involve themselves in areas that should be delegated to management
  • The executive team is a broad partnership of peers–board members, those appointed to the executive committee and the CEO. The executive committee is legally responsible to act for the board between meetings–the board must ratify its decisions. But unchecked, the executive committee can assume dictatorial powers whose conclusions must be rubber-stamped by the board.

Mitigating Oversight Barriers: There is often little individual board members can do to change the course when the DNA has become embedded in the organization. The tradition of micromanagement, for example, is hard to reverse, especially when the culture is continually supported by a succession of like-minded board chairs and CEOs. No single board member can move these barriers given the brevity of the board terms. But there are a few initiatives that three or four directors, working in tandem, can take to move the organization into a high-performance category.

  • Meetings: At the top of every meeting agenda there needs to be listed at least one policy or strategy related item. When the board discussion begins to wander, the chair should remind the group that they are encroaching on an area that is management’s responsibility. One board I observed wasted an hour’s time because the chair had failed to intercept the conversation in this manner. Another board agreed to change its timing of a major development event, then spent valuable meeting time suggesting formats for the new event—clearly a management responsibility to develop.
  • “New Age” Board Members: While millennial managers are causing consternation in some nonprofit and business organizations, certain changes in nonprofits are noteworthy. Those directors in the 40- and- under age bracket need some targeted nurturing. I encountered a new young person who energized the board with her eagerness to try innovative development approaches. She was subsequently appointed to the executive committee, deepening her view of the organization and priming her for senior leadership.Board members who understand the robust responsibilities of a 21st century board need to accept responsibilities for mentoring these new age board people, despite their addictions to their electronic devices.
  • Experienced Board Members: Directors that have served on other high-performance boards have the advantage of being familiar with modern governance processes and are comfortable in supporting change. They are needed to help boards, executive committees and CEOs to move beyond the comfortable bounds of the past. They will be difficult to recruit, but they are required ingredients for successful boards.

 

Different Strokes For Nonprofit Board Folks

Different Strokes For Nonprofit Board Folks

By: Eugene Fram     Free Digital Photo

Over decades of service on nonprofit boards, I have interfaced with board colleagues who possess a variety of performance styles and behaviors. Certain of these types seem to be common to all boards. My comments below are based on adaptations of a director classification system suggested by David Frankel, Partner of Founder Collection. *

The Eager Beaver  

This board member (30s to early 40s) has probably been successful as an entrepreneur or is, perhaps, rapidly rising through middle management in a larger organization. He/she wants to “get things done”. His/her impatience with the typically slow nonprofit rate of progress can be channeled and directed by the CEO or Board Chair. Discouraged by lack of action, this director may quietly exit the board on the pretext that work pressures have increased. On the other hand, if properly nurtured, this category can offer substantial leadership contributions.   (more…)