nonprofit strategic planning

How Does a Nonprofit Board Know When a CEO Is “Just Minding The Store?”

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How Does a Nonprofit Board Know When a CEO is “Just Minding The Store?”

By Eugene Fram

Viewer Favorite Revised & Updated.       Free Digital Image

David Director (DD) has been the chief executive of a nonprofit for about 15 years. Currently, the organization has a budget of $1.5 million, mainly from governmental contracts and a sprinkling of donations. The nonprofit employs about 20 people full and part-time, and annually serves about 500 people in dire need.

Following is an abstract of the board’s evaluation of DD as the CEO.

High Job Satisfaction: * DD enjoys his work and his position as a chief executive. Staff turnover is very low, and last year, DD led a board-staff committee to configure the new sign in front of the building. An engaging personality, he is liked by both board and staff. He has good press relationships and frequently uses press releases to call attention to client success stories.

A Healthy Organization: During DD’s tenure, revenue growth has averaged about 2% annually. Client growth has been in the same proportion. Organizational finances are is good shape with a balanced budget plus a modest yearly surplus. He has a dashboard to monitor finances.

A Fully Engaged Board: Board members enjoy working on committees such as the new sign campaign (see above), the annual dinner-dance and selecting endowment investments. The audit committee only meets once a year after the completion of the financial audit and its accompanying management letter has been received.

Positive Community Impact: DD keeps records of clients who exit the programs each year, but has been unable to track their long-term impact on the community.

The big question is whether or not DD is just minding the store? I argue that he is.
This hypothetical organization is typical of the types of nonprofits I have encountered over a long time period. The basic fault is that the board is composed of well meaning people attracted to the mission as well as the personality of the chief executive. As a result, the operations of the organization are kept at a steady state with the active minutiae  support of the board. Their rationale for this support is the need to focus on the mission. There also might be a mistaken view that the board must protect staff positions.

Some directors come to the conclusion that there is little one can do to drive change, but stay on to enjoy the networking relationships that can develop. Others who join the board resign quickly, citing work pressures. Still others decline board invitations.

A number of other hints are contained in the case:
• Low staff turnover and DD’s interest in the sign committee. The committee can spend hours talking about its color and lettering!
• Revenue and client growth percentages are very low, probably supported by certainty, to date, that government dollars will continue to be available.
• The committees cited don’t contribute much to clients.  These are management not  boards tasks.
* Many directors who don’t have financial responsibilities seem to get some satisfactions out of making decisions about moving endowment assets around. A robust audit committee meets more than once a year. It is not unusual for fraud to occur in such a situation.
• There is no strategic planning indicated. Nonprofits, like these, also can confuse a SWAT analysis with a strategic plan. Where financial or behavioral objectives are established, measurement outcome data are not included to more rigorously assess outcomes and impacts.
• DD evidently does have the ability to become an effective development person but prefers to spend his time on smaller operational items, such as the new sign committee.
• DD does not provide any strategic insights or vision on trends in his service field. This gap needs to be closed, especially where most of the board members’ experiences are outside those of the nonprofit’s mission.

Summary
In my opinion, there are thousands of nonprofits like the one described. Making changes in their governance or operations is difficult; culturally changes can only take place after a long tenured CEO leaves. Since they never measure up to what they could be, are those organizations with “store minding” leadership limiting the financial and human (board and management) resources needed to serve more clients in dire need?

*Categories described by Molly Polidoroff, Executive Director, Center for Excellence in Nonprofits, Redwood City,

 

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Nonprofit Directors/Trustees/ CEOs/ Senior Managers–Improve Board Operations

  •  Have a way to effectively measure “client impact.”
  •  Build CEO/board fundraising capacity.
  • Develop a motivating/friendly process for on-boarding new directors.
  • Reduce # directors/trustees who “micromanage” management.
  •  Develop strategic discussions at meetings.
  •  Develop a broad framework that separates policy & strategy development from operational activities.
  • Have a board/staff relationship that is built on trust.
  • Have task forces that deliver more effective, timely results.

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Eugene Fram, EdD, Professor Emeritus
Saunders College of Business
Rochester Institute of Technology

frameugene@gmail.com

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Common Practices Nonprofit Boards Need To Avoid

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Common Practices Nonprofit Boards Need To Avoid

By: Eugene Fram         Free Digital  Photo

Viewer Favorite:  Revised and Updated

Peter Rinn, Breakthrough Solutions Group,* published a list of weak nonprofit board practices. Following are some of the items listed and my estimation of what can be done about them, based on my experiences as a nonprofit board director, board chair and consultant.

Dumbing down board recruitment.Trumpeting the benefits and not stressing the responsibilities of board membership.
Board position offers frequently may be accepted without the candidate doing sufficient due diligence. At the least, the candidate should have a personal meeting with the executive director and board chair. Issues that need to be clarified are meeting schedules, “give/get” policies and time expectations. In addition, the candidate, if seriously interested, should ask for copies of the board meeting minutes for one year, the latest financials, and the latest IRS form 990.

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Once Again! What Does Nonprofit Board Oversight Mean?

Once Again! What Does Nonprofit Board Oversight Mean?

By: Eugene Fram

Updated & Revised

I have a daily (7 days a week) subscription to Google Alerts on “Nonprofit Management” and “Nonprofit Governance.” Every week, three or four nonprofit case stories surface, in these listings, related to inadequate oversight by nonprofit boards of directors.  Many of the cases result six or seven figure dollar losses to the nonprofits. Following is my personal list of what reasonable board oversight means to attempt to help nonprofit boards of directors to avoid such losses. (more…)

Going For Impact–The Nonprofit Director’s Essential Guidebook: What to Know, Do and Not Do based on a veteran director’s ample field experience

Helps board members to lead wisely, effectively and efficiently.

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21st Century Nonprofit Boards Need to be Pro-Active in Strategy Development

21st Century Nonprofit Boards Need to be Pro-Active in Strategy Development

By: Eugene Fram

Most Boards do not excel at strategy planning. In fact, when the subject is included on a meeting agenda, it usually produces a general lack of enthusiasm. A recent McKinsey study * cited weakness in for-profit boards dealing with the topic. And in my opinion, similar deficits are endemic to nonprofit boards whose response to strategic proposals is often simply– “ to review and approve.”

What causes these vital governing bodies to be passive when the future of the organization is obviously at stake? First, most nonprofit boards meet between 8 and 12 times a year, for what averages to about 1.5 hours monthly. With an agenda crammed with compliance issues and staff reports, there is little time left for board members to dive deeply into a discussion of future transformative efforts on behalf of the organization. When a new strategic plan is developed (that may only occur once every 3-5 years), its implementation is not as rigorous as it should be—even in high performing boards. (more…)

Can Small Experiments Test Nonprofit Strategic Validity?

Can Small Experiments Test Nonprofit Strategic Validity?

By: Eugene H. Fram

When given a series of potential mission changes, modifications or opportunities, most nonprofit boards take the following steps: (1) Discuss alternatives (2) Develop working plans, board/staff presentations and funding proposals (3) All three usually are packaged into a three or five year strategic plan for implementation. Typically the process can take about six months to “get all stakeholders on board.” When something new is suggested, the conservative board and nonprofit management immediately respond, “Great idea, let’s consider it in the new strategic plan.” Results: It can take three to five years to implement the idea, assuming the plan actually gets off the shelf, not an unusual occurrence for nonprofit organizations!
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