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Policy vs. Paper Clips

Errors That Can Cloud Nonprofit Board’s Decision Making–Tread With Care

Errors That Can Cloud Nonprofit Board’s Decision Making–Tread With Care

By Eugene Fram            Free Digital Image

In this age of information overload, nonprofits need to continually scrutinize the quality and source of the material received in preparation for major decisions. Since directors often come without broad enough experience in the nonprofit’s mission arena, they may not be prepared to properly assess its progress in moving forward–and not equipped to make relevant comparisons with similar nonprofits.  In addition, naive or unscrupulous CEOs and highly influential directors may inundate their boards with information and data as a  distraction tactic to keep them busy in the “weeds,” reviewing what has been presented.  Board members need to avoid donning “rose-colored glasses” when assessing proposals from these sources.

I once encountered a nonprofit whose board was about to acquire a for-profit organization, headed by its founder.  Pushing for the “deal” were the nonprofit’s CEO and an influential board member who were not, it turned out, capable of the due diligence needed for a project of this complexity. But the board approved the acquisition without sufficient review.  When the acquisition was consummated, the founding CEO of the subsidiary refused to take directions from the CEO of the nonprofit. In addition, the normal financial settlement of the project requires that a portion of the price be withheld, in escrow, pending adequate performance.  In this instance, the nonprofit paid cash for the acquisition.  Based on  a lack of performance, the operation was finally closed with a substantial loss. (more…)

Unwritten Protocols for Directors Can Boost Nonprofits’ Effectiveness

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Unwritten Protocols for Directors Can Boost Nonprofits’ Effectiveness

By:  Eugene Fram                                        Free Digital Photo

Nonprofit boards are governed by a series of obligations —some are clearly defined as legal responsibilities such as financial actions. Others, however, are less clearly defined and relate to people who are, in some way, associated with the organization. Guidelines to these diverse interactions are not typically archived in policies but are important to the overall professionalism of the board. They include consideration of its: board structure, internal operations, recruitment methods and leadership style.

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Are Nonprofit Boards Capable of Evaluating Themselves?

Are Nonprofit Boards Capable of Evaluating Themselves?

By: Eugene Fram       Free Digital Image

A study of business boards by Stanford University yielded the following results:

  • Only one-third (36%) of board members surveyed believe their company does a very good job of accurately assessing the performance of individual directors.
  • Almost half (46%) believe their boards tolerate dissent.
  • Nearly three quarters of directors (74%) agree that board directors allow personal or past experiences to dominate their perspective.
  • And, perhaps most significant, the typical director believes that at least one fellow director should be removed from the board because the individual is not effective. *

Given that many of these business boards have the financial power to employ legal counsel or consultants to conduct a rigorous impartial evaluation, what can a nonprofit board, with limited financial resources, do to make sure that the board and its members are being fairly evaluated to drive change?

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People Problems Can Put Nonprofits at Risk

 

People Problems Can Put Nonprofits at Risk

By: Eugene Fram   Free Digital Image

Like the Streisand song lyric, nonprofit people who need people must first have the know-how to choose and cultivate those people! If not, the risks to a board can range from modest to substantial. It all begins with making the right choices and vetting board and CEO candidates.  Most nonprofit board members know that they are only required to make one hiring decision—the engagement of the CEO. This is a process that always involves some risk factors. Take the case of the university that has expended substantial amounts to engage a CEO. After a brief “honeymoon period” it was determined that the candidate lacked the requisite background to move the organization forward. His resignation was forthcoming, and with it, a disruption that was costly not only in dollars but in board/faculty morale and public confidence.

A nonprofit board is usually confronted with several people risks. Following are some that should be noted by board members. (more…)

How Do Nonprofit Leaders Manage Unsolicited “Great Ideas?”

How Do Nonprofit Leaders Manage Unsolicited “Great Ideas?”id-100134015

By: Eugene Fram                                                                                  Free  Digital Photo

What does a board member or CEO do when a donor or valued volunteer approaches him/h with a great idea that needs to be implemented at once? Since most of these ideas are what a Stanford professor terms bad ideas, the board chair and CEO are often between a hypothetical rock and a hard place!  To agree to a proposed project that is impractical or irrelevant to the mission will put the nonprofit at risk. But to reject an eager volunteer or potential donor could have serious donor related financial or interpersonal consequences.

When bad ideas are suggested, nonprofit directors and CEOs traditionally have hastily reviewed them—then prolonged the evaluation process hoping the presenter will lose interest in it. When an immediate reply is called for, a full review of the project will involve board and management time and effort to provide a fair assessment. If the verdict is negative, everyone hopes for the best!

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What Role Should Directors Play in Over-viewing Nonprofit Management/Staff Talent?

 

NonprofitWhat Role Should Directors Play in Overviewing Management /Staff Talent?

By: Eugene Fram    Free Digital Image

Nonprofit boards rarely develop an in-depth strategy for assessing its organization’s human capital. Some will keep informal tabs on the CEO’s direct reports to prepare for the possibility of his/her sudden departure or is incapacitated. Others –smaller organizations with fewer than 20 employees—need only a basic plan for such an occurrence.

Need for Strategy: In my view, maintaining a viable talent strategy to assess staff and management personnel is a board responsibility, albeit one that is often ignored. The latter stems from the constant turnover of nonprofit directors whose median term of service is 4-6 years—hardly a lifetime commitment. Like for-profit directors whose focus is on quarterly earning results, their nonprofit counterparts are likely more interested in resolving current problems than in building sufficient bench strength for the organization’s long-term sustainability.

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Dysfunctional Levels in Nonprofit Boards & Organizations.

 

Dysfunctional Levels in Nonprofit Boards & Organizations.

By: Eugene Fram

Article and studies from a Google search on “Dysfunctions in Nonprofit Boards & Organizations,” yields 4,330,000 items in .53 of a second. These items show dysfunctions on charter school boards, church boards, healthcare boards, trade associations, human services boards etc.

Rick Moyers, a well-known nonprofit commentator and nonprofit researcher, concluded:

“A decade’s worth of research suggests that board performance is at best uneven and at worst highly dysfunctional. ….. The experiences of serving on a board — unless it is high functioning, superbly led, supported by a skilled staff and working in a true partnership with the executive – is quite the opposite of engaging.”

These data and comments can lead one to conclude that all nonprofit boards are dysfunctional. I suggest that nonprofit boards can generate a range of dysfunctional behavioral outcomes, but the staff can muddle through and continue to adequately serve clients. (more…)

Are Your Nonprofit’s CEO Succession Plans COVID Updated?

Are Your Nonprofit’s CEO Succession Plans COVID Updated?

By:Eugene Fram          Free Digital Image

“CEO succession planning is one of the most important responsibilities of a (nonprofit) board…”  * Yet others and I find it to be a neglected responsibly.  In the for-profit arena, a mistake in choosing the wrong CEO, “leads to a loss of $1.7 billion in shareholder value in addition to a loss of organizational confidence and momentum.“ * Choosing the wrong nonprofit CEO in a situation when I was a board member set in motion a year of staff turmoil, lost growth potentials, decline in the nonprofits reputation and an uncalculated financial loss.  After a post-turmoil CEO took the helm, the agency prospered for more than twenty-five years.

Based on a national study of for-profit boards, following are some COVID-19 CEO succession questions that nonprofit board members should consider now. *

Is our emergency successor still right for this environment?  Is the internal successor capable of managing under turmoil conditions?  If not, a new external person needs to be contacted.  Often this turns out to be a consultant in the mission field.  It’s important to reevaluate all external options now for the CEO’s ability to manage under unprecedented conditions.

Is our CEO role specification still right?  Over several decades, I have encountered a number of what I would call, “mind-the-store” CEOs.  These persons have: nice personalities, keep expenses within budgeted incomes, but are not proactive in seeking innovation and change.  Unfortunately, these types of CEOs can satisfy their boards for decades under what might have been considered normal circumstances.

Because CEOs have a better grasp of current mission-related trends, boards and CEOs should be planning for the Post-COVID 19 period, even while addressing unusual operational challenges.

Do we have the right people in our near-term succession pipeline– are they prepared?  The selection of the CEO is the only employment decision that nonprofit boards make.  But they are also required to overview the near-term staff succession pipeline for those with very special talents.  For many nonprofit boards, this involves an uncomfortable discussion of who might be in line to succeed the CEO or other senior managers should any become temporarily incapacitated.

Is your board ready and able to have these discussions?  Under current tenure requirements, the average tenure for nonprofit board members centers around six years—two six-year terms or three two-year terms. As a result of this brief tenure, many board members may feel that simply raising the question of CEO succession suggests a lack of the CEO’s abilities to manage It also may cause board conflict, if suggested.  However, it is simply the members’ due diligence responsibility and, if ignored, can cause strategic problems for the organization.

First Steps: * 

·      Review your leadership/experiential criteria.  The abilities a nonprofit CEO will need may change substantially.  Working with the CEO, nonprofit boards need to take the lead in surfacing these criteria, for example, better understanding of IT requirements.

·      Ensure that your emergency (succession) plan is more than just a single name on an envelope. It’s a good idea to have a process ready for an unplanned exit by the CEO.  But CEO experience criteria should be reviewed in depth every two years to be current.

·      Do now what you normally would put off for later.  Start listing the criteria that a CEO will need to operate successfully Post COVID -19.  It will enable the board to consider the changes taking place. Also the CEO can have some guideposts on how his/h abilities need to be enhanced.

* https://corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2020/07/26/ceo-succession-plans-in-a-crisis-era/

 

Can A Nonprofit Organization Have An Operational President/CEO & An Executive Director?

Can A Nonprofit Organization Have An Operational President/CEO & An Executive Director?

By: Eugene H. Fram

Yes, if the organization has the following structure:

Board With A Volunteer Chairperson
Full-time President/CEO With Full Authority for Operations
Executive Director for Division A
Executive Director for Division B

However this structure can be confusing to persons in the nonprofit arena. The executive director should have final authority for all operational matters related to the organization, except those designated for the board in the bylaws. For example, pensions plan changes.

The big question is who carries the CEO title. Some nonprofits, in their early stages, have a volunteer, part-time, President/CEO and an operational Executive Director. This signifies the volunteer, representing the will of the board, can have final authority in implementing board operational policies/strategies. This is not a good structure because the CEO title might lead to the volunteer having liabilities that other board members don’t have. (more…)

CEOs Need To Develop Partnering Relationships With Board Members

CEOs Need To Develop Partnering Relationships With Board Members

By Eugene Fram               Free Digital Image

When a CEO publicly introduces a board member as “my boss,” (as I have overheard more than once) there is a problem. It’s true that both parties—CEO and board member—have specific roles in the success of a nonprofit organization. But the hierarchy of authority should be deemphasized when it comes to interpersonal connections. The most effective mindset for CEO and directors is to view each other as partners in working to achieve the organization’s mission and their impacts.

The CEO’s efforts to cultivate such relationships are key. The following are some initiatives that he/she can utilize: * (more…)