Trustees

Once Again: How Should Nonprofits Conduct Board Evaluations?

Once Again: How Should Nonprofits Conduct Board Evaluations?

By: Eugene Fram

Recent (2017) data from BoardSource show that only about 58% of boards have had “formal, written self-assessment of board performance at some point. Only 40% of all boards have done an assessment in the past two Years,” a recommended practice. With the rapid turnover of directors that nonprofit boards traditionally experience, this seems inexcusable. As a “veteran” nonprofit director, following is what I think can be done to improve the situation. (more…)

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How The Nonprofit CEO Can Exit Gracefully

How The Nonprofit CEO Can Exit Gracefully

By: Eugene Fram   Free Digital Photo by Membio

Like many nonprofit CEOs, Tom Smith has held the position for 10 or more years. As he reported, and I agreed with his assessment, the association he heads was doing well. The membership has increased substantially, revenues exceed expenses each year, and through a series of development events, the reserve account now exceeds $2million. But Tom was not satisfied. He said the job has become “boring.” In his words, it’s like turning on automatic at the beginning of each year—adjusting to a new board chair, developing a budget and being alert for “Black Swan” events that nobody can anticipate.   He quietly said to himself at the beginning of each year, “I wonder what the big problem is going to be this year?”

Preplanning  

Tom had a preplan: Several years ago, he had purchased an avocado farm in California, and had a partner-manager operating it successfully. He and his wife planned to move there, once he decided it was time to leave his CEO position.

Other potential preplanning actions he might have taken:

  • Buy a second home in a more temperate climate, as retirement dwelling.
  • Quietly investigate the potential to join a nonprofit consulting firm.
  • Assess whether or not he can be successful as a solo consultant.
  • Quietly interact with contacts in nearby education institutions to determine how his experiences and educational credentials might qualify him for teaching or administrative positions.
  • Review grant proposal requests from foundations and governments to assess how his expertise might match those of people needed to manage the grants.   (Be certain none of this type of activity creates a conflict of interest with his current CEO position.)
  • Register with search firm to test his “marketability’ for a more interesting CEO position. (Beware of any firm that requires a fee from you.)

Be Proactive

Once preplanning is complete, discuss it carefully with your family, financial advisors and possibly with an attorney if a major relocation is going to be involved. Be sure that they view the change as you do. Make certain they don’t see a missed opportunity within the current position. Also be certain that the time frame is reasonable for the CEO and the organization. It would be a mistake for the CEO to leave when the CFO is planning to retire. Traditionally, a one to three year period is needed from first discussion to the time the CEO departs.

Inform the Board

This should be accomplished in several steps. First quietly inform the board chair. Then at intervals alert other members of the board, the management team and staff.   The CEO has been around for a long time and has an obligation to prepare the organization for a major change. I recently watched a nonprofit executive group “tread water,” for 18 months from the rumors of the CEO’s departure through the selection of the new CEO and his arrival at the office.   To develop a graceful exit, the incumbent needs to be aware of the situation and help provide s smooth transition.

Leaving With Dignity 

Leave as scheduled. Any delay will extend the uncertainty that surrounds the transition.   As noted above, nonprofit organizations have their own ways of remaining static during these transition periods.   Your CEO nonprofit successor deserves better strong support.

Nonprofit & Business Directors Must Be Vigilant – Board Liability Costs Could Be $2.2 Million!

Nonprofit & Business Directors Must Be Vigilant – Board Liability Costs Could Be $2.2 Million!

By: Eugene Fram

The personal cost of director inattentiveness is made painfully clear in an important federal appeals court decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals decided the decision, in re Lemington Homes, on January 26, 2015 for the Third Circuit. … [T]hese difficult facts arose from a small, nonprofit organization. … (more…)

Can Nonprofit Boards Afford To Underinvest In Management Leadership Development?

Can Nonprofit Boards Afford To Underinvest In Management Leadership Development?

By: Eugene Fram:

McKinsey & Company has published a substantial nonprofit study: To better understand the state of (nonprofit) leadership in the US social sector… The findings suggest that chronic under-investment in (management) leadership development for 337,000 small or midsize nonprofits,..(may risk) the sector’s capabilities to fulfill emerging missions effectively and to adapt to fast-changing demands.
(http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/social_sector/what_social_sector_leaders_need_to_succeed) (more…)

The 12 New Year’s Resolutions EVERY Nonprofit Board Should Make

The 12 New Year’s Resolutions EVERY Nonprofit Board Should Make

 

By: Eugene Fram   Free Digital Image by Stuart Miles

Now that we’ve moved into December, I’m starting to see a bigger and bigger number of articles on one specific topic – New Year’s Resolutions.

And I came across some interesting numbers.

More than 40% of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions – exceeding the 33% who watch the Super Bowl each year. But as many as 80% of those “self-promises” fail by the end of February, and ultimately only about 8% are actually kept.

There’s a solution, of course. The experts who understand these things – say there’s a much higher likelihood that you’ll stay on your New Year-inspired self-improvement path if you come up with resolutions that are clear, simple, tangible and observable (measurable). The goal, of course, is to create positive impacts for clients.

I have to tell you: Not only did this advice make tremendous sense to me; it also inspired me.

After all, if regular folks can make resolutions and find a path to success, why shouldn’t organizations do the same?

And that’s especially true of all types of nonprofit organizations – which will face one of their most-challenging environments in years in 2019.

So I devised a list of Resolutions every nonprofit leader should consider in the New Year.

And here’s how to do it: (more…)

What Attributes Qualify a High Performing Nonprofit Board?

What Attributes Qualify a High Performing Nonprofit Board?

By: Eugene Fram       Free Digital Image

Every Board—whether for- or non-profit –creates its own organizational “stage.” True, there is an ever-revolving cast of characters and variable props. But as any artistic director will tell you, it’s the quality of the performance that can make or break the perceived value of the production.

On a parallel plane, Russell Reynolds Associates, an international executive search firm, lists six key issues (in bold) that can determine the performance level of a for-profit board.
(http://bit.ly/1f5Yt7F)  Following are my views on how these questions can be applied to nonprofits. Such information may help directors to assess their own organizational impacts. (more…)

Why Are Some Nonprofit Boards Missing the Mark? What to Do?

Why Are Some Nonprofit Boards Missing the Mark? What to Do?

By Eugene Fram     Free Digital Image

Stephen Miles of the Miles group (http://milesgroup.com) recognizes that many business boards are coming up short in performance. As founder and CEO of a strategy and talent development agency, Miles has identified five areas of potential improvement for commercial boards. I believe these categories are also quite relevant to nonprofit board operations in the following ways:

Knowledge Gaps

Many new board directors are in the dark about some of the operating issues facing their organizations. Such information gaps are less prevalent in trade and professional associations because most directors are in associated fields or are in practitioner positions. However, new directors of community based charitable organizations and human services focused nonprofits should be much more attuned to discussions at initial board meetings. Current methods of orienting new directors don’t seem to be doing the job. This is critical for those boards with rapid turnover. For example, one board with which I am acquainted has 80% of its membership with no more than 18 months tenure.

Orientations can take a variety of forms, ranging from brief pre-board session to pre-meeting phone calls from the CEO or Board Chair. These updates will provide the new board member with information that should make his/her participation in the board meeting more meaningful.

Lack of Self-Assessment

“When it comes to the (business) boards (assessing their) own performance, this is often done by using the check-in-the box exercise, (along) with some form of gentle peer review,” reports Miles. In the nonprofit environment, board self-assessments are not usually a priority because nonprofit directors often have time constraints. In addition, nonprofits need to more broadly examine qualitative outcomes, such as community impacts. But business boards are also beginning to move in the same direction, and at this time seem to be behind nonprofits!.*

The media, Internal Revenue Service, foundations and accreditation organizations are asking for more information and transparency to ensure that nonprofits have quality processes to overview management impacts. Few nonprofit boards can afford rigorous third party directed board self-assessment, the gold standard. However a self-review deficit might leave some board members with significant personal liabilities.** Consequently, it is my personal opinion that nonprofit boards need to make good faith efforts to have reasonable self-reviews, understanding that management and board members may hesitate to negatively reflect on volunteer directors who have adopted poor decisions.

Self-Delusion

“Management Capture” occurs when a board too readily accepts a delusional view from management that organizational performance is significantly better than reality. As a result, some board self-examinations may take place only after a crisis has been resolved. So it is mandatory that the boards develop rigorous impact measures, both quantitative and qualitative by which to judge organizational and board performance. Models for self- board assessments are available from professional groups and consultants.

Recruitment Shortcomings & Board Inexperience

Miles maintains that most for-profit directors lack real experience in succession planning: this is also true of nonprofit directors. Even in for-profit boards where a chief executive is temporarily incapacitated, there often is no plan for interim succession. Plus there is always the possibility that a CEO will leave quickly for a variety of reasons. Planning for his/her unanticipated exit should be an ongoing board concern.

One root cause for having a nonprofit culture of board inexperience is that often there are too few directors who have served on other for-profit or nonprofit boards and know how to be role models for newer recruits. Also, normally serving one or two terms, lasting three years, some experienced nonprofit directors may not be motivated to serve in this role because there are no financial incentives offered. However, as demonstrated in the Penn State debacle, a director’s reputational risks can be substantial. How a board evaluates and improves its organizational talent pool is critical to performance. Miles characterizes the optimal board as composed of ” … directors who are active in their roles engaging individually and collectively (to engage with) other directors and (overview) management.” It is a tall order in today’s nonprofit environment.

For-profit organizations or nonprofit organizations, in my opinion, have five identical basic board guidelines. For Deloitte Partners, a worldwide accounting and financial advisory firm, these constitute board responsibilities that can’t be delegated to management. The board has responsibilities to have: a viable governance structure, annual assessments of (board and) organizational performance, driven strategic planning, improved management talent and assured organizational integrity.

A relentless pursuit of these lofty goals will enable nonprofits to be “on the mark.”

*For nonprofit qualitative outcomes, see: Jerry Talley & Eugene Fram (2010) “Using Imperfect Metrics Well: Tracking Progress & Driving Change,” Leader to Leader, winter, 52-58. For commercial boards see: Emily Chasan, (2012), “New Benchmarks Crop Up in Companies’ Financial Reports,” CFO Journal Section, Wall Street Journal, November 11th,

** For examples, see the Intermediate Sanctions Act, Section 4958 of the Internal Revenue Service Code. Also see the Expanded IRS 990 form guidelines for board structure and performance–38 new questions related to nonprofit governance.