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Mismanagement Causes Huge Agency Failure—A Word To The Wise Nonprofit?

Mismanagement Causes Huge Agency Failure—A Word To The Wise Nonprofit?

By Eugene Fram

Rarely do failed for-profit or nonprofit organizations get a posthumous review of what actually went wrong. The collapse of one of the largest nonprofits in the US, the Federal Employment Guidance Service (FEGS) of New York City, is a noteworthy exception. Details of the causes that led to the human service’s demise were aired widely throughout NY media. * This organization had a $250 million budget, with 1900 employees who served 120,000 households covering a range of mental health and disability services, housing, home care and employment services.

Following are my interpretations of what its board should have done to avoid such a tragedy.

Failure of nonprofits: Failure of small nonprofits is rampant for a wide variety of known reasons. For example, “Nonprofits tend to be more trusting of their employees and have less stringent financial controls than their for-profit counterparts.” **

Outside of fraud being involved, the FEGS failure demonstrates that no nonprofit is too big to fail, probably because of a lack of board due care. Boards have to be acutely aware of the professional financial competencies of their CFO and CEO or well-meaning people who naively believed that loans could be easily repaid. There should have been a well-documented financial l strategy. The nonprofit closed with $47 million in loans/liabilities/debts.

Symptoms of impending collapse: Clearly with $47 million being owed, common financial ratios should have alerted knowledgeable board members to the coming catastrophe. But in the nonprofit environment, it is not unusual to that find directors, even business executives, are unfamiliar with the fund accounting approach used by nonprofit organizations.

In addition, contracting city and state agencies failed in their reviews of the organization’s finances. However, some nonprofits, either intentionally on unintentionally, can saddle contract reviewers and directors with so much information that even the most conscientious can’t spot problems. (Humorously, directors in this category are referred to as “mushroom directors” because like growing mushrooms, they are kept in the dark an covered with excrement. But this type of tactic was successfully used against IRS auditors in the Madoff debacle.)

Government or Foundation Contracts: In accepting these contracts, nonprofits must be realistic about whether or not there is enough money to cover full costs. They can’t be blinded by what the contract can do for the organization’s client. If adequate overhead funding is not attached to one or more of these agreements, they eventually can cause bankruptcy, because the nonprofit eventually will have to borrow or seek additional donations to cover them.

How Nonprofit Boards Can Avoid Problems

Review Financials: Current financials need to be given to directors monthly, or at least quarterly if the board meets less often. The very detailed budget data can often be difficult for those without budget experience. At the least, everybody on the finance committee needs to be able to intelligently review the income statement and balance sheet. Also they need to be aware that funding accounting permits some unusual twists—food donations, for example, can be included in revenues, based on an estimate of their value. Consequently, cash revenues and expenditures need to be a focus for directors’ analysis.

Make certain that financials are delivered on timely and complete bases. Problem Example: One CFO didn’t submit accounts receivable reports for nine months because he said he was too busy to compile it. Neither the board nor the CEO demanded issuance of the report. When finally delivered, it was clear that the CFO was listing a substantial number of noncollectable accounts as active ones. Both the CFO and CEO were fired, and the nonprofit had to hired expensive forensic accountants to review the impact.

Gaps Between Revenues and Expenditures: This is the ultimate red flag, if not followed carefully. It may vary from period-to-period in a predictable pattern that everybody understands, but if the gap continues, say for four to six months, strong board action is necessary.

Adopt written financial policies: These are necessary to make sure all concerned with finances are on the same page. Since interpretation is often required in financial decisions, nothing should be left open to broad interpretation.

Contracts with governments, foundations and others: Make certain that reimbursements for indirect costs are included. If not included, have a benefactor ready to step in to cover the costs.

An old Chinese proverb, “A wise man (or woman) learns from his/h own experience. The wiser man (or woman) learns from the experiences of others.” One hundred twenty thousands households and individuals lost services from an 80 year old human service nonprofit. There is much to learn from the collapse of FEGS.

* https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/thought-leadership/what-we-learn-when-nonprofit-closes-its-doors

**https://www.blog.abila.com/nonprofit-fraud-facts-2016-global-fraud-study/

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Going For Impact: A Non-Profit Blueprint For the Second Half of the Year  

 

Going For Impact: A Non-Profit Blueprint For the Second Half of the Year

By Eugene Fram     Free  Digiatl Image

For organizations and individuals, the end of the calendar year is the traditional planning period – the time used for self-assessment, strategizing and putting in place “game plan” for improvement and growth for the 12 months to come.

For many nonprofits, June 30th is the end of the fiscal and planning year. Yet the blueprint also offers the same opportunities to focus on improvement and growth.

But in today’s volatile, hyper-competitive and uncertain environment, this one-a-year exercise isn’t enough.

It just isn’t. Especially for nonprofits. And their boards of directors.

Here’s the good news: The year’s midpoint – upon us now – is a great point for an interim review. It’s a good time to review your game plan. Develop a vision goes beyond reviewing current budget projections against actuals and other compliance requirements.

I have identified five areas of focus – the last being a kind of “action plan” you can use to implement what’s of interest. Adopting just one of the many suggestions can yield a substantial return on investment.   They are: 

  • Your Leadership
  • Your Talent Pool
  • Your Fundraising
  • Your Impact Data
  • Your “Fix-It” Points

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Once Again: How to Keep a Nonprofit Board Informed.

 

Once Again: How to Keep a Nonprofit Board Informed.

By: Eugene Fram    Free Digital Image

 

With high performing nonprofit boards, directors will rarely be invited by the CEO to participate in operational decisions. As a result, management will always have more information than the board. Yet the board still needs to know that is happening in operations to be able to overview them.
The name of the game is for the CEO to communicate the important information and to keep directors informed of significant developments. Still, there’s no need to clutter regular board meetings by reporting endless details about operations. (more…)

Nonprofit Board Members—Are They Aware of Their Independent Director Duties?

Nonprofit Board Members—Are They Aware of Their Independent Director Duties?

By Eugene Fram     Free Digital Image

The vast majority of nonprofit board members serve as independent directors. They are not members of management, have other occupations as their major focus, but have some significant responsibilities to a community, profession, government or professional/trade association. Mary Jo White, Former Chair, U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, outlined the responsibilities of fund board members who also are independent directors to overview the investment dollars made by 53 million U.S. households. Many of her comments, in 2016, easily apply to nonprofit board members and their responsibilities as Independent directors. Note: The italicized materials following are White’s direct quotations. * (more…)

Can Nonprofit Boards Strategically Reinvent Themselves?

Can Nonprofit Boards Strategically Reinvent Themselves?

By: Eugene Fram      Free Digital Image

Not many nonprofit boards look to strategic renewal/reinventing as viable options. Dedicated to a specific mission, boards may merge with related organizations as their prospects decline or simply declare victory. March Of Dimes has been a classic case of redefining its mission when The Salk Vaccine limited widespread polio epidemics. Today, the nonprofit’s programs serve people with disabilities: children, adults, seniors, military personnel and veterans.

Basic Motivation Problems

Board Turnover & Leadership – According to the 2015 BoardSource report, Leading with Intent, “ Board leadership is not a lifetime commitment, with boards chairs and other officers being subject to term limits.” In the study, sixty-nine percent of board chairs only had terms of one or two years, not a great deal of time to lead strategic changes.

Numbers of clients are declining and/or the opportunities for growth are limited — Those offering psychological counseling services have faced declining client populations for a number of years, as new medications have become more useful. Some have combined with other nonprofits offering a wide range of human services while others have closed. A few of the nonprofits might have survived if they had anticipated the potential impact and had developed viable services, for example, offering counseling services to private or public school systems.

Need But No Market – In the human services arenas, there are always fundamental needs on which to base a mission. Working within a structure where the clients for the nonprofit’s service are not the funders, these needs are often unmet. Example: Early childhood education is a well-known need, but securing sufficient funding remains a significant barrier to delivering the services.

Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Renewal – An Underused Option http://bit.ly/1mQKMGi

1. Select growth applications that connect with people emotionally. – The Easter Seals renewal focused on people with physical disabilities and special needs, a natural outgrowth of working with polo victims. The nonprofit organization was well aware of the emotional reactions and public appeals that resonated with the mission focused staff and volunteers.

Anticipated success can also be a motivator for staff and volunteers. The ALS Ice Bucket campaign in 2014 is an example of drawing attention to a challenge through a gimmick with a substantial emotional appeal. It provided significant additional funding that enabled the organization to rethink its research prowess. Whether or not the appeal can continue to be utilized in coming years remains to be seen. At the least, it is added evidence to the power of emotional appeals to generate the potential for strategic renewal.

2. Treat strategy as a dialogue as opposed to a ritualistic, documented-based planning process. – Strategic renewal in the nonprofit environment often occurs under crisis conditions. Consequently, starting with a ritualistic strengths and weakness analysis is not the way to begin strategic planning at these times – complete decline is probably at hand. The issue has to be what resources can be salvaged from the current mission to enhance the new one.

If the strategic process is one that is reviewed every three to five years, every nonprofit organization should be honest about answering this generic question or similar ones: Who would miss our organization if we ceased to exist? Broad considerations of the responses and subsequently investigation can lead to open discussions to consider future opportunities for strategic renewal. As noted before, there are many new missions to address unmet human needs.

3. Use experiments to explore future possibilities. – Nonprofit organizations often shy away from using financial and human resource assets for experimentation. A field ethic that prevents a nonprofit from experimenting is an unrelenting focus on directing resources to current client services. Where strategic renewal is required, or seen as an opportunity, outside funding needs to be developed, except when the organization has unusual reserves available for experimentation.

4. Engage (external and internal) leadership (communities) in the work of renewal. – “Successful strategic renewals … need to be broadly based so they can engage managers (and staffs) … in the organization. Creating (internal and external) leadership communities around the renewal project allows (board) leaders to learn about the future by doing and win over potential resisters.” The support of the chief operating officer is critical. If he/s is not behind the renewal, the board will have to make a forced change or wait until a planned succession takes place.

 

Nonprofit Chief Executives Should Have Title: President/CEO

 

Nonprofit Chief Executives Should Have Title: President/CEO

By Eugene Fram

This post, over several years, has developed a record of continued viewing interest. Rarely a day passes in which the data doesn’t include one or two views, or occasionally a day in which the viewer’s data can rise to five. For example, when previously updated in 2016 there were 525 post views and counting.  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 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: (more…)

Are Your Board and Staff Ready For Change?

Free Digital Image

Are Your Board and Staff Ready For Change?

By: Eugene Fram

“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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