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Want Better Nonprofit Board Cultures? Look for Four Board Behaviors–Part I

Want Better Nonprofit Board Cultures? Look for Four Board Behaviors–Part I

By Eugene Fram                Free Digital Image

Board cultures can be difficult to modify or change in for-profit and nonprofits. A recent McKinsey study demonstrated the strength of the board culture in three different levels of board operations—ineffective, complacent and striving. * Differentiated achievement seems to be largely dependent on four behaviors. (See bold type.) Centered on my experiences, they can be applied to nonprofit boards. At the least, the behaviors can motivate considerations for board modifications.

There is a culture of trust & respect in the boardroom: Study data showing respondents’ agreement with the statement: 39% of ineffective boards; 66% of complacent boards and 88% of striving boards.
Trust and respect are also critical for nonprofit boards, but they are probably more difficult to achieve for several reasons. First, nonprofits are often seen as lacking efficiently and effectiveness because they operate on smaller budgets and are often housed in marginal physical facilities. In addition, a long-standing nonprofit tradition is for board members to become directly involved with operations. This leads to external perceptions of nonprofits needing managerial support.

Boards will trust management to a higher degree when managers can demonstrate they have the necessary abilities to meet challenges with care and insight.

Finally, nonprofit boards are less homogeneous in terms of director backgrounds since they represent a much broader base of society.

Board & management-team members constructively challenge each other in meetings: Study data showing respondents’ agreement with the statement: 44% of ineffective boards; 53% of complacent boards and 76% of striving boards.
Nonprofit board environments are not well known for being challenging, but the potential really stands out in the for-profit sector—striving boards are about 31points ahead of ineffective ones on this behavior. But with nonprofit directors being comprised of volunteers, this will require a huge cultural shift. “Going along to get along” is a common mantra in the nonprofit sector. Few nonprofit directors, through rigorous discussion, possibly leading to “no” votes, want to be the cause of internal conflict.

The chair runs meetings efficiently and effectively: Study data showing respondents’ agreement with the statement: 37% of ineffective boards; 56% of complacent boards and 69% of striving boards. Among dozens of nonprofit boards with which I have interacted, the chairperson’s views receive a great deal of deference to avoid conflict. But note that there is value in choosing a chair who can lead meetings in an efficient and effective manner—69% of striving directors thought this a factor of success versus only 37% of those on ineffective boards.

Board members seek out relevant information beyond what management provides, to deepen knowledge: Study data showing respondents’ agreement with the statement: 31% of ineffective boards; 59% of complacent boards and 62% of striving boards.
The tenor of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (2002) called for for-profit directors to seek information beyond that which management provides. Again, note the wide data differences between ineffective and striving. In my experiences with nonprofit boards, the openness of management to having board members interact with staff below the C-Suite levels varies significantly. Some are open to it. Others who fear that such contact will lead to “end-runs”–staff will take grievances directly to board members. Since transparency and openness are board values in the 21st century, every nonprofit should have provisions for directors seek information below the C-Suite level.

* http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/toward-a-value-creating-board Note: The study does not list the criteria used to determine the three categories—ineffective, complacent, striving.

 

 

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How Do Nonprofits Determine CEOs’ Productivity?

How Do Nonprofits Determine A CEOs’ Productivity?

By: Eugene Fram         Free Digital Image

Nonprofit organizations can’t have bottom line profits. If they did, CEO productivity determination could be less complicated. Determining a fair CEO benefit, based on productivity, can be a complex issue for a nonprofit board. Providing too little or too much can be dangerous for the organization and possibly the board members. Although the spadework for benefits needs to be done by a small committee, the entire board needs to fully agree on the rationale for the final decision.

Following are some of significant challenges that I have noted nonprofit boards face when determining CEO benefits.

Evaluation Failure: Some CEOs might receive high benefits because a series of boards have not effectively evaluated her/h performance. It is not unusual to find CEOs who have not been formally and effectively evaluated for years. They are held in position because they are “minding the store,” not being professional managers.

Market Forces: Nonprofit organizations are restricted by law from providing their CEOs with excess benefits. (Section 4958 – IRS Code) As a result, the benefits offered the CEO must reflect a market level found in the geographic area and/or the person’s professional qualifications. For example, nonprofit health insurance organizations have to compensate CEO at levels that are competitive with for-profit organizations. In my opinion, unusual CEO benefits that are hard to justify market-wise are invitations for an IRS inquiry

Board Relationships: Obviously having a good, not perfect, interrelationship with the constantly changing board membership is critical to support a reasonable benefit level. It is especially important in association type nonprofits where the person holding the board chair position changes annually. I recently encountered one board chair who, although being very pleased with the CEO’s performance, expressed a concern that the CEO did not have good communications with board members. The chair welcomed a suggestion that the board might engage a professional coach to help the CEO work on the issue.

Additional Benefits: Although not usual in the nonprofit environment, special benefits can be offered the CEO, especially if they relate to job performance. These can range from special insurance coverage to extensive travel benefits , educational opportunities. or even housing and entertainment allowances. If involved with fundraising, like a college president, housing and entertainment benefits may be appropriate. In some unusual instances the person’s spouse or significant other may also receive compensation for time spent to benefit the nonprofit.

Nonprofit CEO: It is not unusual for the CEO to undervalue his/h own worth, especially when associated with a human services type of organization. This then keeps a cap on the whole salary scale and can make it difficult to hire capable people. Example: I encountered one CEO with degrees in human services and management areas plus 30 years of excellent experiences. Admired for his performance by peers in a nearby university, he refused to use that leverage to seek equitable compensation.

Personality: Now doubt a positive CEO personality can be an attribute in working with boards and staffs. But some nonprofit boards continue to support well-liked CEOs, even after they have been found to be involved with fraud. The board then has to be removed by state attorneys’ actions.

Summary:
Nonprofit boards can do a poor job of determining CEO benefits because of inherent challenges. Evaluating critical qualitative outcomes and impacts, like improving life quality and successful advocacy, can be daunting. But it can be done in a fair manner.*  CEO benefits must in line with market levels and professional qualifications, or the directors can have a personal liability if they provide a excess ones. In the face of these challenges, some nonprofit board members simply pay lip service to the task and then follow a decision of the board chair.

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

 

 

Nonprofit Policy Development & Operations Management – Crossing Boundaries?

Nonprofit Policy Development & Operations Management – Crossing Boundaries?

By: Eugene Fram

“Nose in- fingers out,” is the commonly used guide for nonprofit directors’ relationships to operations. Translated into terms of governance-management relations, it means that boards have an obligation to overview management impacts and outcomes, but they need to avoid micromanaging the operations of the nonprofit. This is a particular danger with nonprofits because micromanagement often seems to be in the DNAs of nonprofit boards.

On the operations side, strong experienced nonprofit CEOs can tend to be overly impatient and can easily make strategic or policy decisions that are the responsibilities of the board. In fact, I have seen a few CEOs step over the boundary and develop and execute board style policies. (more…)

Better Board Governance. Is it the same for both business & nonprofit organizations?

Better Board Governance. Is it the same for both business & nonprofit organizations?

Both BoardSource in 2012 and the Charted Global Management Accountant (CGMA) in 2012 have issued reports on improving board governance. The former group focuses on nonprofit boards and the latter focuses on business boards globally.* Both the nonprofit and business organization reports listed the following prime areas for board improvement or focus:The CGMA report called for improved strategy development & risk analysis; better boardroom behaviors; better relationships between board & management. The BoardSource report asked for improved focus on strategy, with much less emphasis on operations; more board commitment, engagement, & attendance; better self-assessment, recruitment & development. (more…)

What’s in a Name? Benefits of the president/CEO title — Revised & Updated

What’s in a Name? Benefits of the president/CEO title Is it time to change your organizational title?

By Eugene Fram

Over the last 100 years, senior managers of nonprofits typically have held the title of “executive director.” During the past 30 years, many nonprofits have changed the title to “president/CEO,” following a common business practice. Many more nonprofits need to consider the same change to obtain some subtle but useful organizational benefits.

A wide range of nonprofits use the executive director title: churches, human service agencies, trade associations, and medical facilities. An executive director can be organizations; hospitals became regional healthcare systems;the only manager in a church with an annual budget of $200,000, or be the head of a medical facility with a $10 million annual budget and 200 employees. These significant differences in responsibility levels can:

demean the contributions of many executive directors in the eyes of some important audiences
minimize people’s perceptions of the organizations’ contributions.

The Executive Director in Nonprofit Organizations

According to Wikipedia, nonprofit senior managers are called executive directors instead of chief executive officers “to avoid the business connotation which the latter name evokes.” It also distinguishes them from “members of the (volunteer) board of directors and from non-executive directors, who are not actively involved in running the corporation.” (Non-executive directors are volunteers who mentor or advise an operating division within the nonprofit, such as the development office.)

Using the title of executive director made sense during the early part of the 20th century when nonprofit organizations were modest ones with a handful of employees, and volunteers regularly filled managerial or service roles. As late as the 1960s, one occasionally witnessed volunteer board members having internal operational roles.Those who advocate the continued us of the executive director title argue that the title’s use is empirical evidence of the board’s involvement in the organization’s activities. However, the negative side of the argument is that continued use of the title leads to board micromanagement of operations, which stunts organizational growth.

Nonprofit organizations became larger and more complex in the latter part of the 20th century. Local professional societies became regional organizations; hospitals became regional healthcare systems; and so on. The proportion of volunteers involved in management operations and staff work declined. Consequently the trend to use the president/CEO title became more appealing to focus operational responsibility on management and staff. If properly structured, the title requires the chair and CEO to develop a more trusting professional relationship that assures stakeholders of higher levels of performance. Organization results become focused on outcomes, not process.

The president/CEO in Nonprofit Organizations

In the latter part of the 20th century, businesses began to add CEO to the title of either their president position or board chair position.* The objective was to clearly designate which of the two had final operational authority, except for those actions reserved by the firm’s bylaws for the board (usually acquisitions, pension plans, and long-term contracts). In the business environment, as contrasted to the nonprofit environment, both the chair and the president can be corporation employees.

In the 1980s, nonprofit organizations began to mirror business organizations managerially. Many developed marketing departments and installed complex information technology. A few hired experienced business executives to head their organizations. The older philosophy of “avoiding the businesses connotation” was quickly eroded. When hiring new senior managers, nonprofit boards offered titles of president/CEO and made bylaw provisions for others in the senior management teams to become vice presidents.**

Some president/CEOs even became voting members of their boards, if permitted by their state laws. It wasn’t unusual for some incumbent executive directors to seek the new title if it was politically expedient. However, many conservative boards still look upon the change as a managerial power grab, which has slowed the change process.
Three decades have passed since early adopters made the first changes. Yet thousands of complex nonprofits are still headed by managers holding the executive director title, although they may have substantial, complex operational duties.

Changing the title of the chief staff officer to president/CEO can positively influence three things:

1. PERCEPTIONS OF THE ORGANIZATION

There’s little public understanding of the robust responsibilities of executive directors. Most people holding the title can relate stories of having to describe their jobs to those unfamiliar with nonprofits. But most people recognize that the president/CEO is the head of the organization with authority to lead its employees and to direct operations.

The senior manager from time to time may have opportunities to be interviewed by the media. This can be a critical responsibility when a rapid response to a crisis is needed or an unusual public relations opportunity arises. The president/CEO title enables the senior manager to move quickly and authoritatively; there is no ambiguity related to the leader’s authority.

How leaders and organizations are perceived by stakeholders are realities with which leaders must deal, whether or not the perceptions are accurate. Providing the chief staff officer with the president/ CEO title can help develop more desirable internal and external perceptions of an organization’s strength and the responsibilities of the person leading it.

2. ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE

When organizations change the title, they often do so in connection with developing a structure that brings more formality and managerial professionalism to the culture. In the past, years of volunteer involvement in operations often developed a more family culture, which is a positive force when the nonprofit is in its early stages. But it’s hard to maintain a family environment as the number of employees grows. A new formality, brought about with the senior manager’s title change, along with a group of former managers now titled vice presidents, may be seen by older members of the staff as making the operation “uncaring” towards staff and clients.

As time progresses, with the president/CEO being the communications nexus between the board and staff, there will be less personal contact between the two groups. This requires the CEO to be concerned that a mistrusting atmosphere may develop. Under the CEO’s guidance, contact between board and staff can take place on ad hoc committees, on strategic planning projects, at various board orientations, and at organization celebrations. In these ways, the board can seek the participation and advice of all staff in establishing the major programs involved with missions, visions, and values.

The change in top titles and the greater formality it can bring may raise some trust issues with older staff. Management needs to convey a message to the staff that the change is a result of the board placing more trust for operations in the hands of management and staff.

3. FINANCIAL GROWTH

Some nonprofits take the position that fund development is the board’s responsibility, since board members have the broadest range of community and other outside contacts. With a president/CEO in the top management position, fund development becomes the joint responsibility of the president/CEO, the development person — if one is employed — and board members capable of fundraising. The new title gives the senior manager the immediate recognition necessary to credibly approach donors and, with the consent of the board, to make commitments on the organization’s behalf.

To involve the board more directly, the president/CEO can work collaboratively with board members to develop contacts opened by the board. (As one nonprofit executive person explained the situation, “Top people readily communicate with persons in similar positions.”) In seeking support funds, the new title can open doors and communications that might not be available to one holding an executive director title (which conveys such an unspecified range of responsibility). It might even raise an unarticulated question in the minds of some donors as to why the person hasn’t been given the title of president/CEO.

Which title Will Work Best for you?

Compared to the duties of a president/CEO, the duties of an executive director range much more widely on a management activity scale. Some executive directors are simply clericals while others are sophisticated senior executives. Any organization that ignores this fact can leave a psychological gap in public perceptions relating to the group’s strategic posture and the senior manager as a substantial leader. Where warranted by higher responsibility levels, changing a senior manager’s title to president/CEO can help present a better public posture for the senior executive and a better strategic posture for an organization.

Eugene Fram, Ed.D. (frameugene@gmail.com, blog site: http:// bit.ly/yfRZpz), is professor emeritus at the Saunders College of Business, Rochester Institute of Technology. In 2008, Fram was awarded the university’s Presidential Medallion for Outstanding Service. In 2012, a former student gifted Rochester Institute of Technology $3 million to establish the Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking. Fram’s book Policy vs. Paper Clips (available in new edition at http://amzn.to/eu7nQl) has been used by thousands of nonprofits to model their board structures.

*In the nonprofit corporation, the board chair is usually an unpaid volunteer who also might hold the CEO title, indicating that person has final operational authority. A volunteer holding the CEO title may be subject to more personal liability than other board members.

**This also assumes that those directly reporting to the president/CEO are concurrently given vice president titles.

Reprinted from the 2014 January/February/March issue of Nonprofit World Volume 32, number 1

Nonprofit Boards 2014 – Two Recurring Concerns of Directors & Managers

Nonprofit Boards 2014 – Two Recurring Concerns of Directors & Managers

Viewing responses to my blog-site over the past year has provided me with a window to topics that obviously interest nonprofit directors and managers. An unusually strong surge of viewing responses to the following two blog-posts convinced me that both issues were universal to the nonprofit governance environment. (more…)

Civil and Honest Discourse Needed for Nonprofit Boards

Civil and Honest Discourse Needed for Nonprofit Boards
Huffington Post Impact Section – Posted: 01/03/2014 9:31 pm http://huff.to/1lIWFNM

By:Eugene Fram

In recent years, I have noted some nonprofit board meeting environments have been developing into two distinctly different types: (1) a board consensus resulting from directors’ desires not to develop conflicts with peers, or (2) uncivil discourses based on political beliefs, especially when the CEO and board chair subscribe to different political parties. (more…)