nonprofit boards. nonprofit directors. nonprofit director term limits

Nonprofit Boardroom Elephants and the ‘Nice Guy’ Syndrome: A Complex Problem

Nonprofit Boardroom Elephants and the ‘Nice Guy’ Syndrome: A Complex Problem

By: Eugene Fram            Free Digital Photo

Revised viewer favorite post

At coffee recently a friend serving on a nonprofit board reported plans to resign from the board shortly. His complaints centered on the board’s unwillingness to take critical actions necessary to help the organization grow.

In specific, the board failed to take any action to remove a director who wasn’t attending meetings, but he refused to resign. His term had another year to go, and the board had a bylaws obligation to summarily remove him from the board. However, a majority of directors decided such action would hurt the director’s feelings. They were unwittingly accepting the “nice-guy” approach in place of taking professional action.

In another instance the board refused to sue a local contractor who did not perform as agreed. The “elephant” was that the board didn’t think that legally challenging a local person was appropriate, an issue raised by an influential director. However, nobody informed the group that in being “nice guys,” they could become legally liable, if somebody became injured as a result of their inaction.

Over the years, I have observed many boards with elephants around that have caused significant problems to a nonprofit organization. Some include:

• Selecting a board chair on the basis of personal appearance and personality instead of managerial and organizational competence. Be certain to vet the experience and potential of candidates carefully. Beside working background (accounting, marketing, human resources, etc.), seek harder to define characteristics such as leadership, critical thinking ability, and position flexibility.

• Failure to delegate sufficient managerial responsibility to the CEO because the board has enjoyed micromanagement activities for decades. To make a change, make certain new directors recognize the problem, and they eventually are willing to take action to alleviate the problem. Example: One board refused to share its latest strategic plan with it newly appointed ED.

• Engaging a weak local CEO because the board wanted to avoid moving expenses. Be certain that local candidates are vetted as carefully as others and that costs of relocation are not the prime reason for their selection.

• Be certain that the board is not “rubber-stamping” proposals of a strong director or CEO. Where major failures occur, be certain that the board or outside counsel determines the causes by conducting a postmortem analysis.

* Retaining an ED who is only focusing on the status quo and “minding the store.” The internal accounting systems, human resources and results are all more than adequate. But they are far below what can be done for clients if current and/or potential resources were creatively employed.

* A substantial portion of the board is not reasonably familiar with fund accounting or able to recognize financial “red flags.” Example: One CFO kept delaying the submission of an accounting accounts aging report for over a year. He was carrying as substantial number of noncollectable accounts as an asset. It required the nonprofit to hire high-priced forensic accountants to straighten out the mess. The CEO & CFO were fired, but the board that was also to be blamed for being “nice guys,” and it remained in place. If the organization has gone bankrupt, I would guess that the secretary-of-state would have summarily removed part or all of the board, a reputation loss for all. The board has an obligation to assure stakeholders that the CFO’s knowledge is up to date and to make certain the CEO takes action on obvious “red flags”.

* Inadequate vetting processes that take directors’ time, especially in relation to family and friends of current directors. Example: Accepting a single reference check, such as comments from the candidate’s spouse. This actually happened, and the nominations committee made light of the action.

What can be done about the elephant in the boardroom?

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to use, no pun intended! These types of circumstances seem to be in the DNA of volunteers who traditionally avoid any form of conflict, which will impinge upon their personal time or cause conflict with other directors. A cultural change is required to recruit board members who understand director responsibilities, or are willing to learn about them on the job. I have seen a wide variety of directors such, as ministers and social workers, successfully meet the challenges related to this type of the board learning. Most importantly, never underestimate the power of culture when major changes are being considered.

In the meantime, don’t be afraid to ask naive question which forces all to question assumptions, as in Why are we doing the particular thing? Have we really thought it through and considered other possibilities? http://bit.ly/1eNKgtw

Directors need to have passion for the organization’s mission. However, they also need to have the prudence to help the nonprofit board perform with professionalism.

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…)

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…)

More Than Passion Needed in Prospective Nonprofit Directors

(Free Digital Image)

More Than Passion Needed in Prospective Nonprofit Directors

By: Eugene Fram

What nonprofit selection committee would reject a candidate who demonstrates passion for the organization’s mission?   I can attest to the fact that in many recruitment processes, an interviewee who shows strong empathy for the cause is a “shoe-in” for the director position regardless of any obvious weakness in other skill areas. By contrast, one who appears ambivalent about the organization’s mission can be overlooked or even eliminated from the list. (more…)

How Prepared Are Board Members for the Challenges of the Nonprofit Culture?

 

 

 

 

 

How Prepared Are Board Members for the Challenges of the Nonprofit Culture?

By: Eugene Fram        Free Digital Image

Viewer Favorite–Updated & Revised

Given that the typical tenure of a new board member is six years. And assuming that a new director’s intention is to make his/her unique contribution to the organization’s progress before he rotates off the board and is supplanted by another “new” director. With these factors in mind, I estimate that many volunteers enter the boardroom with little understanding of nonprofit culture. Even those who have served previously on business boards may initially spend valuable time in accommodating to the nuances of nonprofit practices and priorities before being poised to make contributions to the “greater good” that nonprofit create.  Nonprofits have a way of acculturating new board members to current culture in steady of allowing the new board member to insert his/h culture into the flow of nonprofit’s stream of ideas.   For example, a financial executive familiar with financial strategy may be asked to assist the  CFO with accounting questions, instead of  being asked to develop a financial  strategy for the organization.  Following are some areas that are endemic to nonprofits: (more…)

Resolution for 2017—Focus on Long-Term Nonprofit Sustainability

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Resolution for 2017—Focus on Long-Term Nonprofit Sustainability

By: Eugene Fram                            Free Digital Photo

Nonprofit boards, like their business counter-parts, can become complacent and lose their vitality. This sets the stage for nonprofit disruptions by the social and technical environments that surround them.   Following are some crucial priority questions (listed in bold) that have been raised for business boards. * They easily can be modified to drive the thinking of nonprofit directors and help them keep nonprofits sustainable and productive. (more…)

Nonprofits in Limbo: Preparing for the Unexpected

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Nonprofits in Limbo: Preparing for the Unexpected

By: Eugene Fram

As the nation is reeling from the jolt of the 2016 election results, I happened to read a recent report from Deliotte Consulting suggesting ways that for-profit organizations can improve their performance in uncertain times. The report centers on key drivers of board effectiveness that, in my opinion, resonate with similar nonprofit situations. Most nonprofit boards typically live with uncertainty and are perennially “on the edge.” Here are some ideas from the Deloitte * report that, when adapted early, can bolster their operation in times of disruption.

  • Bold, decisive leadership: Nonprofit boards are responsible for donor and charitable types of revenues that place directors in a public trust position. In addition board members typically will only be active for a median tenure period of four to six years. As a result they often become overly conservative in their strategic views and may accept CEOs that “mind-the-store” with modest incremental growth annually.

To prevent the organizational boat from capsizing in the perpetual seas of uncertain times, the board needs rely on  the best forward looking information about strategy, culture, people and clients. All of this must be in solid  alignment with a substantial mission, or a modified one if the external environment requires it. This allows the  nonprofit to cut through the cultural barriers that impede strategy development. As Peter Drucker has noted, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast every morning.”

  • Opportunity mind-set: Even when the organization is prospering, the board has a responsibility to press for innovations and to support small-scale experiments as called for in a “Lean Management” structure. Within this structure, the staff can test the waters via experiments to move more boldly, as long as the experiments yield positive results. **
  • Stakeholders: Nonprofits have a multitude of stakeholders, complicated by the fact that often those who receive the service are not the ones who support or pay for it.   This requires management to balance the needs of the various groups and that can call for heart-breaking decisions. For example, should revenues be allocated to marketing or used for needed client programs? To solve the dilemmas Deliotte suggests, “Building valuable, open relationships across multiple stakeholder groups is key to building trust and organizational resilience”
  • Match fit: Boards have a responsibility to motivate the nonprofit to realistically evaluate the tensions between new models and existing ones. Two examples show contrasting results. Easter Seals boards perceived the market changes involved with polio vaccines and modified their missions.   Nonprofit counseling agencies failed to assess the positive impacts of new pharmaceuticals and the need for face-to face counseling declined. To develop a fit, Deliotte suggests, “the board and the organization need to be agile and open.”
  • Culture, culture, and culture: Nonprofit boards’ cultures play a key role in determining the level of risk the board is willing to take. With key drivers, nonprofit boards have to take reasonable risks to survive and even encourage management to take it. Small scale, yet bold, experimentations that are jointly reviewed by board and management provide a “Lean Management” approach that has been used by venture supported business firms.
  • Cracking the diversity Code: Instead of recruiting new board members and maximizing the best they have to offer, nonprofit boards try to orient new board members to the current culture. A new member with a financial planning background, for example, will be asked to work with the CFO on accounting related problems. Instead, he/s should be asked to develop a long term-term financial plan.   Board background (such as strategic planning abilities, critical thinking) diversity, as well as demographic (such as gender, ethnicity) ones, must be carefully crafted and utilized as well as demographics.
  • Curiosity is Key: Deliotte Consulting concludes, “Directors should get out of the ‘same old’ board room, and should even look across borders to learn from approaches in (different nonprofits) and companies… . Developing news skills and insights are essential for innovation and should be sought to create the questioning and challenging environment needed to imagine, inspire and deliver better outcomes (and impacts). Complacency (in uncertain times) can be a killer.”

*https://www.google.com/search?q=Sevn+ways+to+im%5Bprove+board+effectivness+in+uncertgain+times&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=Seven+ways+to+improve+board+effectiveness+in+uncertain+times

**https://www.snpo.org/publications/sendpdf.php?id=2014

 

 

 

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How Do Nonprofit Boards Keep Stakeholders Engaged?

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How Do Nonprofit Boards Keep Stakeholders Engaged?

By: Eugene Fram                       Free Digital Photo

First, exactly who are the “stakeholders” in the nonprofit environment? Most directors would readily define the term as clients, staff and board members. But what about other participants such as external auditors and significant vendors? Surely a nonprofit that depends on a vendor to supply groceries can be hobbled if the food is not delivered properly. And, last but not least, the backbone of the organization — the volunteers! Many cogs in the wheel make the nonprofit world go around and need consistent and careful attention. Following are some guidelines for engaging all types of stakeholders:

(more…)

Improve Your Nonprofit Director Onboarding Process

Improve Your Nonprofit Director Onboarding Process using Going For Impact

New guidebook covers

What to Know, Do and Not Do

As a veteran director with extensive experience on 12 nonprofit boards I have been “treated” to a wide variety of on-boarding sessions for new directors.

They’ve ranged from asking:

  • Every new director to read a 2.5 inch policy manual.  (I checked the size!)
  • Having experienced board members sit next to new ones at meetings.
  • Listening to the CEO review the entire policy manual.

Going For Impact: The Nonprofit Director’s Essential Guidebook lets you improve such sessions by making on-boarding governance material more meaningful and interesting. For example:

  • Use the book’s 150-item Index Strategically: Ask new directors to read specific topics (e.g., micromanaging; outcome vs. impact data; responsibilities of the board) and relate the readings to their new board.
  • Select Key Chapters in the Book: Choices include topics such as Nonprofit Culture Presents Challenges or There’s a Boundary Line That Shouldn’t Be Crossed. Then later – in either formal or informal sessions – have the CEO and/or board panels discuss the topics with the new directors.
  • Give All New Directors a Copy of the Book: Ask them to skim or read the book’s content, which encompasses 112 pages, and list topics of greatest interest.   Then hold three or four informal on-boarding sessions, led by experienced directors that relate to the selected topics.

Going for Impact can also be utilized by creative boards and CEOs to develop retreat agendas that can help enhance their board’s governance perspectives!

“Going for Impact” ©2016 https://goo.gl/Dwa9le

Nonprofit Board/Staff Relationships: An Uncomfortable Partnership?

Nonprofit Board/Staff Relationships: An Uncomfortable Partnership?

By: Eugene Fram

I have always been of the opinion that nonprofit directors don’t give sufficient consideration to the relationships between the board and staff. The following passage reasserts the complexity of such relationships and why misunderstandings might occur on either side of the fence. (more…)