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Policy vs. Paper Clips

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…)

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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.

(more…)

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…)

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.

Developing Meaningful Relationships Within Nonprofit Boards

By: Eugene FramFor 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.

A strong CEO, if appointed internally, should understand the role changes that take place once appointed. He/s must delegate activities that was once performed was once performed within a comfort zone and seek new challenges. Examples: The new CEO needs to be enthusiastic about becoming a fundraiser.   She/h must become well acquainted with peer CEOs regionally and nationally to stay abreast of the state-of-art in both management and mission areas. He/s needs to become acquainted with cohorts in the business and public management communities. Over time, those involved with the nonprofit internally and externally must perceive the organization is lead by a capable executive.

  1. Creating impact: In the 21st century, funders, board members and other nonprofit leaders are attracted to organizations that create impacts as opposed to outcomes. A nonprofit can have great program outcomes with little long-term impacts on clients. Impact is often hard to measure, but it can be done, only if started with imperfect measures that are improved over time. ** For example, one local human services organization, with which I am acquainted, operates groups of apartments offering social services that allow elderly clients to live independently for years on their own, rather than in an assisted living facility. The impact in this instance is well-defined and an impetus to attracting board members and donors that find the impact meaningful.
  1. Building relationships externally and internally: Board candidates who have broad contact networks are sought by search committees to enhance community or industry relationships or to strengthen the organization’s fund development efforts. Little effort is directed to fostering closer relationships among current board members who often don’t get to know each other personally because of crowded board and committee agendas. Example: I consulted with one board where some board members complained that they might not recognize their board peers when they meet them in outside social situations.

To solve the problem, both the Board Chair & CEO must acknowledge that it exists—in the above example; it took an extensive personal interview board survey to highlight the problem.   Then creative tactics like the following can be employed.

  • One CEO has a weekly one-hour conference call with the board chair to discuss current issues. Other board members are invited to join the calls if they wish. This is an excellent way for new board members to quickly become attuned to the nonprofit.
  • Another CEO, each Sunday, sends a one-page e-mail summary of major events to board members. He reports that his high school English teacher would never approve of his grammar or format, but he knows e-mails are reviewed. They are reflected in the level of discussions at meetings
  • Low-key self-funded social events for board members and significant others can help board members to become better acquainted and work together.
  • Another classical approach is to allow 10 minutes each meeting to allow board members to briefly report changes in their personal or professional lives.
  • Assuming an organization is successful in developing a cohesive board, what can be done to retain these efforts once they have termed-out? The answer is to ask them to join the organization’s “Alumni Association.”   The process can be found here: (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/ltl.20305)
  1. Organizational stability: Unstable nonprofits have common telltale signs—rapid employees or management turnover, excessive bank borrowing, reserve depletion, late report filings, etc. It’s difficult to provide meaningful board experiences under these conditions. However it is not unusual to find board members who will accept responsibility when the nonprofit is unstable, if they are dedicated to its mission. Some may even “enjoy” the turnaround challenge.

While no nonprofit will be perfect, those with the best opportunity to provide meaningful board experiences will have a well formulated strategic plan that allows it to be stable
operationally 
and financially.

*https://grantspace.org/resources/blog/high-impact-volunteer-engagement-six-factors-for-success/

** https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2012/07/24/using-imperfect-metrics-well-tracking-progress-and-driving-change/

** https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2012/07/24/using-imperfect-metrics-well-tracking-progress-and-driving-change/