Stakeholder Relations

Nonprofit Board Disruption—A Board Member’s Reflections

Nonprofit Board Disruption—A Board Member’s Reflections

By: Eugene Fram. Free Digital Image

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 and 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.

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The Nonprofit CEO–How Much Board-CEO Trust Is Involved?

The Nonprofit CEO–How Much Board-CEO Trust Is Involved?

By; Eugene Fram         Free Digital Image

The title, CEO for the operating head of a nonprofit, clearly signals to the public who has the final authority in all operating matters and can speak for the organization.*  .

The CEO designation calls for an unwritten trusting contact with the board based on mutual respect, drawing from the symbolism that he or she is the manager of the operating link between board and staff. It is a partnership culture. However, a solid partnership does not allow the board to vacate its fiduciary and overview obligations. The board has moral and legal obligations to “trust but verify” and to conduct a rigorous annual evaluation of outcomes and impacts CEO has generated for the organization.

While the trust the board has in its chief operating officer can’t be described in exact quantitative terms, viewing it through the lens of a set of CEO and/or Board behaviors can provide an idea that a significant level of trust is involved in the relationship.

Following are some of the behaviors that signify a trusting partnership is in place:

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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.

Developing Meaningful Relationships Within Nonprofit Boards

Developing Meaningful Relationships Within Nonprofit Boards

By: Eugene Fram. Free Digital Image

For several decades, I have suggested that nonprofit Board Chairs and CEOs have a responsibility to be sure that each board member perceives his/h continuing relationship as being meaningful. Following are some organizational guidelines that can assist Board Chairs and CEOs in this effort.*

  1. Developing or hiring strong executive leadership: Obviously when hiring externally it is necessary to engage a person with a managerial background. But many nonprofit CEOs can be appointed after years of being an individual contributor or leading a small department. These experiences condition them to do too much themselves, rather than to assume a strong management posture. This involves focusing more on strategy, on talent development, interacting more with the board/community and creating a long-term vision.

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Once Again! Should Nonprofit Chief Executives Should Have Title: President/CEO?

Once Again! Should Nonprofit Chief Executives Should Have Title: President/CEO?

By Eugene Fram        Free Digital Image 

This post, over several years, has developed a record of continued viewing or comment interest. Rarely a day passes in which the data doesn’t include several views.  Perhaps the controversial nature of topic causes the longevity of interest?

When nonprofit organizations reach a budget level of over $1 million and have about 10 full-time staff members it is time to offer the chief operating officer the title of PRESIDENT/CEO. In addition, the title of the senior board volunteer should become CHAIRPERSON OF THE BOARD, and the title of EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR needs to be eliminated. Experience has shown that with a reasonably talented PRESIDENT/CEO at the helm, he/she can provide the following benefits:

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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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Nonprofit Boardroom Elephants and the ‘Nice Guy’ Syndrome: A Complex Problem

 

Nonprofit Boardroom Elephants and the ‘Nice Guy’ Syndrome: A Complex Problem

By: Eugene Fram            Free Digital Photo

Revised viewer favorite post

A friend serving on a nonprofit board reported plans to resign from the board shortly. His complaints centered on the board’s unwillingness to take critical actions necessary to help the organization grow.

In specific, the board failed to take any action to remove a board member who wasn’t attending meetings, but he refused to resign. His term had another year to go, and the board had a bylaws obligation to summarily remove him from the board. However, a majority of directors decided such action would hurt the director’s feelings. They were unwittingly accepting the “nice-guy” approach in place of taking professional action.

In another instance the board refused to sue a local contractor who did not perform as agreed. The “elephant” was that the board didn’t think that legally challenging a local person was appropriate, an issue raised by an influential director. However, nobody informed the group that in being “nice guys,” they could become legally liable, if somebody became injured as a result of the inferior work and their inaction.

Over the years, I have observed many boards with elephants around that have caused significant problems to a nonprofit organization. Some include:

• Selecting a board chair on the basis of personal appearance and personality instead of managerial and organizational competence. Be certain to vet the experience and potential of board candidates carefully. Beside working background (accounting, marketing, human resources, etc.), seek harder to define characteristics such as leadership, critical thinking ability, and position flexibility.

• Failure to delegate sufficient managerial responsibility to the CEO because the board has enjoyed micromanagement activities for decades. To make a change, make certain new board members recognize the problem, and they eventually are willing to take action to alleviate the problem. Example: One board refused to share its latest strategic plan with it newly appointed ED.

• Engaging a weak local CEO because the board wanted to avoid moving expenses. Be certain that local candidates are vetted as carefully as others and that costs of relocation are not the prime reason for their selection.

• Be certain that the board is not “rubber-stamping” proposals of a strong board member or CEO. Where major failures occur, be certain that the board or outside counsel determines the causes by conducting a postmortem analysis.

* Retaining an ED who is only focusing on the status quo and “minding the store.” The internal accounting systems, human resources and results are all more than adequate. But they are far below what can be done for clients if current and/or potential resources were creatively employed.

* A substantial portion of the board is not reasonably familiar with fund accounting or able to recognize financial “red flags.” Example: One CFO kept delaying the submission of an accounting accounts aging report for over a year. He was carrying as substantial number of noncollectable accounts as an asset. It required the nonprofit to hire high-priced forensic accountants to straighten out the mess. The CEO & CFO were fired, but the board that was also to be blamed for being “nice guys,” and it remained in place. If the organization has gone bankrupt, I would guess that the secretary-of-state would have summarily removed part or all of the board, a reputation loss for all. The board has an obligation to assure stakeholders that the CFO’s knowledge is up to date and to make certain the CEO takes action on obvious “red flags”.

* Inadequate vetting processes that take less board members’ time, especially in relation to family and friends of current board members. Example: Accepting a single reference check, such as comments from the candidate’s spouse. This actually happened, and the nominations committee made light of the action.

What can be done about the elephant in the boardroom?

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to use, no pun intended! These types of circumstances seem to be in the DNA of volunteers who traditionally avoid any form of conflict, which will impinge upon their personal time or cause conflict with other board members. A cultural change is required to recruit board members who understand their responsibilities, or are willing to learn about them on the job. I have seen a wide variety of directors such, as ministers and social workers, successfully meet the challenges related to this type of the board learning. Most importantly, never underestimate the power of culture when major changes are being considered. As Peter Drucker noted, “Culture can eat strategy for breakfast.”

In the meantime, don’t be afraid to ask naive question which forces all to question assumptions, as in Why are we really taking this action? Have we really thought it through and considered other possibilities? http://bit.ly/1eNKgtw

Board  members need to have passion for the organization’s mission. However, they also need to have the prudence to help the nonprofit board perform with professionalism.

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…)

The Nonprofit Board’s New Role In An Age of Exponential Change

The Nonprofit Board’s New Role In An Age of Exponential Change

By Eugene Fram                 Free Digital Image

Most nonprofit boards are being faced with huge pressures—reduced financial support, challenges in integrating new technologies, recovering from Covid impacts and difficulties in hiring qualified personnel who will consider “nonprofit” wages. To survive long term, board members need to be alert to potential opportunities. These may be far from the comfort zones of current board members, CEOs and staff.

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Raising The Bar For Nonprofit Involvement

 

Raising The Bar For Nonprofit Involvement

By Eugene Fram                            Free Digital Image

It’s no secret that some nonprofit board members cruise through their term of board service with minimal involvement. McKinsey Company, a well-known consulting firm, has suggested five steps that can be used to counteract this passivity in for-profit boards. * With a few tweaks, McKinsey suggestions (in bold) are relevant to the nonprofit board environment where director engagement is often a challenge.

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