Nonprofit board communcations

A Nonprofit Paradox: Weak Leadership Pool, Positive Organization Outcomes?

By:  Eugene Fram                   Free Digital Image

It happens: one or both of the two nonprofit engines—governance and/or management — sputters out, yet the organization continues to meet its goals and deliver adequate service to its constituents. Some examples: a child placement agency manages to maintain the quality of its oversight while struggling to deal with an admittedly inept board and CEO. Another example: An ineffective volunteer board at a youth center, meeting quarterly for a couple of hours, allows the CEO to really manage the board and to motivate the staff. The CEO realized he and the agency were in dangerous positions without an innovative board providing standard oversight, although client services were positive.

A staff, dedicated to its own professionalism, can on occasion compensate for a lackluster board and/or senior management team by continuing to provide reasonable value to the nonprofit’s clients. Another example involved the ED, simultaneously a deputy sheriff, and his law enforcement colleagues taking payments to refer wayward youths to ED’s shelter. However, the staff continued to provide valuable services. * In the end it’s about leadership and the ability to step up to the plate when dysfunction occurs. In the last case, the staff acted in a professional manner, although the management was entirely corrupt and the board evidently inept.

Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, has some innovative thoughts on that subject. He identifies four key characteristics he believes are critical to strong innovative organizational leaders. ** I have listed them below, and the ways I think his ideas can be applied to nonprofit governance.

 

1. Systems Thinkers (Brains): Deep knowledge in their area of work. Our current economy and future opportunities will continue to value knowledge, expertise and ideas.

Nonprofit CEOs need not only cutting edge knowledge of their field—they must have a firm grasp of what nonprofit governance implies, particularly the shared leadership style demanded by accrediting agencies. Many CEOs also need to acquire the skills involved to interact well with higher-level executives from business and governmental organizations, in order to partner with them or to take an active role in fundraising.

Nonprofit directors should have a “strategic bent’ to their decision-making and an understanding of the serious downside of micromanagement. Since most directors’ everyday professional lives center on commercial endeavors, or the professions, they must adjust their board mindsets to focus on mission not profit. This is especially pertinent when applied to assessing nonprofit qualitative outcomes, e.g., community impacts. Using imperfect metrics – that are anecdotal, subjective, interpretative — outcomes or impacts can be roughly assessed. Also imperfect metrics can rely on small samples, uncontrolled situational factors and cannot be precisely replicated. Over time they can be highly useful in tracking progress and driving change. (See:http://bit.ly/OvF4ri)

2. Deep Collaborations (Soul): Even when a leader has unwavering commitment to his or her personal values; he or she cannot operate as an island…. Trust among collaborators from a variety of perspectives forms the foundations for deep and ongoing collaboration, which is essential for leading (organizational) change.

Nonprofit directors are part-time volunteers with very little opportunity to have contact with the staff. This lack of interaction can encourage mistrust on both sides. Some informal board/staff social events or board/staff working task forces can go a long way towards promoting a spirit of cooperation.

Although there exists a vast literature on the necessity to build a trusting relationship between volunteer chair and CEO, there is only modest mention of the trust required between nonprofit boards and staff. Many nonprofits are “flat” organizations, meaning there may only be one or two management layers between staff and board. Consequently, this relationship needs to work reasonably well to have operational success; few CEOs or boards can survive a staff “revolt.” Nonprofit CEOs and boards walk a difficult trail in maintaining a deep and trusting collaboration.

3. Empathetic Innovators (Heart): Passion is a key innovator, but to create social (and organizational) change empathy must plan a central role. Innovation must be rooted in deep empathy – a real understanding and sensitivity to the experience of another person –to be most appropriate and effective.

Nominating committees are often seduced by a display of passion for the mission in a board recruit. Passionate directors are driven but not always responsive to other governance interests and perspectives. But candidates who have low or moderate interest can make some surprising contributions because they can take their governance responsibilities seriously or lead in other areas. True board innovation is based on empathy with fellow board members and management. It is also a collegial effort towards fulfilling the mission.

Nonprofit innovators may become frustrated when they want to improve the performance of an established organization and find some of the staff, especially those in management positions, are unable or unwilling to change. In some cases, the answer may be well-planned terminations, showing an appreciation for what the person has contributed or moving the person to an individual contributor position, allowing him or her to be measured for a fulfilling a familiar operating service.

4. World Visionaries (Nerve): Social (and organization) innovators …must be skilled at integrative thinking — the ability to hold two opposing ideas in their minds at once and then reach a synthesis that improves each one. They must…. be comfortable navigating ambiguity and seeing possibilities in the fragmented, complex nature of our social reality as they envision a better future.

The word “nerve” usually conjures up aggression, risk taking or chutzpah! Klaus Schwab brings to it a more nuanced interpretation. My nonprofit “take “on it is a director’s ability to think critically, to weigh the risk of a proposed action with the possible outcome in thoughtful consideration of what is in the best interest of the organization. It is a standard to which nonprofit organizations must aspire if they are to survive and meet the needs of their community and professional clients in the 21st century.

It’s time to banish the old paradox in which productive staffs can compensate for incompetent volunteer boards or managements. Klaus Schwab expands the criteria for leadership in governance. In doing so, he raises the bar for the entire organization.

*For an example see: Ann Eigeman (2013) “Targeted Editorial Stands Out for Separating a Nonprofit’s Poor Management From Its Value,” NPQ Newswire, November 4th.

**Klaus Schwab (2013) “4 Leadership Traits to Drive Social Innovation,” Stanford Business Center for Social Innovation, October 31st.

 

 

 

 

 

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Anticipating Tomorrow’s Nonprofit Crises Today

Anticipating Tomorrow’s Nonprofit Crises Today

By: Eugene Fram

In the decades in which I have been a nonprofit/business board member or consultant, I fortunately have only been in the mire of a crisis situation twice.   In both cases, the board was totally unprepared to take appropriate actions to minimize the turmoil that followed.

Following some guidelines that nonprofit boards can use to plan to respond effectively to crises in the 21st century: * (more…)

Nonprofit Chief Executives Should Have Title: President/CEO, Updated and Expanded

Nonprofit Chief Executives Should Have Title: President/CEO, Updated and Expanded

By Eugene Fram

This post, over several years, has developed a record of continued viewing interest. Rarely a day passes with the post’s count isn’t one to five views. On a recent day  there were 18 views.  Since originally published in 2013 , this post has had a  total of  about 1400 views. The  year-to-date August 2017 total is 508  views and counting, predicting another record year   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 Nonprofit Boards Capable of Evaluating Themselves?

Are Nonprofit Boards Capable of Evaluating Themselves?

By: Eugene Fram

A recent 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? (more…)

When Nonprofit Missions Get Muddled

When Nonprofit Missions Get Muddled

By: Eugene Fram   Free Digital Image

Viewer Favorite–Updated and Revised

It happens over time. A passionately conceived mission starts to drift from its original intentions. Stakeholders begin to view a nonprofit’s purposes from a different angle. There is a discrepancy between how the organization is committed to act and external perceptions of its current actions. Nonprofit boards need to be on the alert to such misalignments that can go unnoticed in the perceptual “fog” of daily challenges. It can limp along for years without acknowledging the impact of ther client reality by which the nonprofit is being judged.    (more…)

Business Board Experts Offer Nonprofit Board Gems!!

Business Board Experts Offer Nonprofit Board Gems!!

By: Eugene Fram                                  Free Digital Image

The wise person learns from his/h own experiences. The wiser person learns from the experiences of others

The CEO Forum published an article covering the governance views of five business board members, known for their wisdom and vision.   Following are some of topics in the article that relate to nonprofit boards. * (more…)

Wanted: Nonprofit CEOs with Entrepreneurial People Skills

Wanted: Nonprofit CEOs with Entrepreneurial People Skills

By: Eugene Fram      Free Digital Image

Viewer Favorite—Revised and Updated

The need for superior leadership skills is as critical to CEOs in nonprofits as it is in the entrepreneurial world. * Following are four such skills and the unique challenges they bring when employed in the nonprofit environment. (more…)