Recruiting a Nonprofit Digital Board Director: Limitations & Alternatives

Recruiting a Nonprofit Digital Board Director: Limitations & Alternatives

By Eugene Fram

Both FP and NFP organizations are feverishly looking to add persons with digital experiences to their boards in order to be able to understand policy and strategic issues related to their organizations. Betsy Atkins, a veteran director with extensive FP and NFP experiences, makes the following observations about what is becoming a “digital director recruitment chase.” (more…)

Markers For An Open Culture Within Nonprofit Boards

Markers For An Open Culture Within Nonprofit Boards

By Eugene Fram

Board Culture is really about having chemistry that works. Is there transparency, and by that I mean openness? It is very intangible but critical. Is there a spirit of inquiry? That means, for example, that a director can disagree with another director or with the CEO without actually being hostile or being viewed as hostile. All should be able to have civil but active discussions. Does the board have a few really insightful board members who spark real dialog? I’m talking about people who have an ability to smell and “opportunity” or “problem” or “roadblock.’ Do the organization exude creativity – from the CEO and from board members? (more…)

Why Are Some Nonprofit Boards Missing the Mark? What to Do?

Why Are Some Nonprofit Boards Missing the Mark? What to Do?

By Eugene Fram

Stephen Miles of the Miles group (http://milesgroup.com) recognizes that many business boards are coming up short in performance. As founder and CEO of a strategy and talent development agency, Miles has identified five areas of potential improvement for commercial boards. I believe these categories are also quite relevant to nonprofit board operations in the following ways: (more…)

Retaining Excellent Nonprofit Board Members by Keeping Them Meaningfully Involved – Part II

Retaining Excellent Nonprofit Board Members by Keeping Them Meaningfully Involved – Part II

By: Eugene Fram

Board members will stay interested and involved in their nonprofit organizations if they are convinced that their activities have a purpose and serve the organization. This is what I call meaningful involvement. And as a side note, being pertinent and time-limited is especially applicable for younger individuals building a career, only because this group is now used to immediate gratification and to projects that last no longer than the equivalent of a semester. When board members feel their involvement is meaningful, they will often remark, “Assignments are interesting and well organized.”

Following are some hypothetical examples: of meaningful involvement: (more…)

What To Do About Weak Nonprofit Board Practices – Reissued based on viewer interrest.

What To Do About Weak Nonprofit Board Practices

By Eugene Fram

Peter Rinn, Breakthrough Solutions Group, recently published a list of weak nonprofit board practice. * 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. (more…)

Nonprofit Innovation: What Can Barbers Teach Nonprofits?

Nonprofit Innovation: What Can Barbers Teach Nonprofits?

By: Eugene H. Fram

Reading several different blogs comments on nonprofit innovation reminded me of a story I tell my marketing. Here is a brief abstract: When men started to wear their hair longer in the 1980s, two classes oh barbers responded. One class cursed the change, while they became innovative stylists. In the area in which I was living, during the 80s, the number of barbers dropped from 1,000 to 300.

Seth Godin, the famous marketer, thinks that nonprofits have a charter to be innovators. But they aren’t he states in a recent blog. “The thing about most cause/welfare non-profits is that they haven’t figured out how to solve the problem they’re working on (yet). … Too many don’t have a method for getting to the root cause of the problem and creating permanent change.” He than suggests that some nonprofits should, “Go fail. And then fail again. Nonprofit failure is rare, which means that non-profit innovation is too rare as well. Innovators understand that their job is to fail, repeatedly, until they don’t. ”

Comments to a recent BoardSource exchange on innovation had the following reactions:
• Nonprofit founders are focused on specific goals and never go beyond them.
• Decision makers in nonprofits follow the “not invented here” viewpoint and fresh ideas are threatening.
• Many executive directors do not see the “potentially positive role board-level committees (including of non–board members & staff) can play in generating new ides.”

My reaction is that Godin is off base, although I strongly suggest that nonprofits can prosper by adopting the better business practices and vice versa. Few foundations would play “venture capitalist” to nonprofit leaders who have a record of failure. For example, Geoffrey Canada has successfully led the development of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Although the HCZ model is well know, it has yet to be duplicated elsewhere.

The comments from the BoardSource blog have been developed from field experience and remind us that nonprofit innovative leaders are in short supply. The barbers of the 1980s teach us that we must be prepared to innovate when change impacts our field, whether it be style or technological innovation.

But be prepared to think outside of the box. I still go to one barber who cuts my hair, less often, but he still doesn’t work on two heads at a time. Similarly, it is unlikely that marriage counselors will soon be mediating two warring couples at a time, unless some drug company comes up with a pill that enables the counselors to be more innovative.

Nonprofit innovation, as shown by the HCZ project, is very difficult, but it is still very possible in the nonprofit governance arena. For some practical examples, see my blog (http://bit.ly/yfRZpz) & book (http://amzn.to/eu7nQl )
What do others on this exchange see as the state of nonprofit innovation? Is it as dire as indicated by the comments cited above?

Once Again: How to Keep a Nonprofit Board Informed.

Once Again: How to Keep a Nonprofit Board Informed.

By: Eugene Fram

At high-performing nonprofit boards, members of the board will rarely be invited by the CEO to participate in operational decisions. Yet the board still needs to know that is going on in operations.

The name of the game is for the CEO to communicate the important information to board members and to keep them informed of significant developments.  Still, there’s no need to clutter regular board meetings by reporting endless details about operations. <!–more–>

Probably the most effective way of keeping board members aware of what is going on within the organization is to have staff frequently make short presentationsHowever, I have seen this approach used in dozens or nonprofit board meetings without success.  Two problems frequently occur.   First the staff person is so enthusiastic about an opportunity to talk with the board that the presentation time continues well beyond the allotted time, and, second, board members raise “micromanagement” level questions, which further extends the presentation session. To solve these problems, the board chair needs to suggest to detail seeking directors that the questions are very operational and can be answered “offline.” Second, the chief executive must meet with the staff person well ahead of the meeting and make sure that the material to be presented is succinct and the staff person is well aware of the time constraint. A “dress rehearsal” might even be appropriate for some staff personnel

Another technique is to use a consent agenda.  With a consent agenda, routine and previously agreed upon items are organized together in the pre-meeting agenda and then, hopefully, approved as a group.  If one or more board members questions an item in the group, it is placed on the agenda for the next board meeting. This process eliminates the time consuming effort of having a separate discussion for each item.

A third way is for the chief executive to meet with board members informally about every quarter. Occasionally, these meetings are with two directors at one time.  At these sessions, the chief executive can discuss the more “entrepreneurial or wild ideas” that might need testing and update them on operational decisions in greater detail.  Some of the meetings can happen quite informally, before or after a committee meeting or after a monthly board meeting. Some can occur at  appropriate social events. It is important to have the executive’s assistant keep track of the meetings and then to have authority to make new appointments to meet the quarterly schedule.  Obviously, the CEO would need to meet wit the board chair more often, and if the board is a national one meeting less frequently, a scheduled phone call is appropriate. One veteran CEO I know meets frequently with two board members. One is a long serving member, and the other is a newly appointed board member.

Source: “Policy vs. Paper Clips” Third Edition (2011).  Available on Amazon

My blog site: http://bit.ly/yfRZpz

The Nonprofit CEO Exceeds His/Hers Authority – What Happens Then?

The Nonprofit CEO Exceeds His/Hers Authority –  What Happens Then?

By: Eugene Fram

It happens!  When it does, it’s the board’s job to inform the CEO that he or she has taken on too much authority.  As a board chair of a human service nonprofit, I encountered such a situation. The CEO signed a long-term lease contract on his own that should first have been approved by the board.   The financial obligations involved weren’t significant. <!–more–>  When the CEO recognized his error, I then asked for formal board ratification. None of us does out jobs perfectly.  But a CEO has to recognize  the board’s ultimate authority for long-term contracts and similar issues, even when the financial obligations are insignificant.

I don’t believe you need as much Board-CEO trust in the for-profit world as in the nonprofit world.  In the former, the “bottom Line” can give directors a reasonably clear (not exact) indication of how the CEO is performing.    In the nonprofit world, there is no organizational solid bottom line, except the one that says income must match expenses.  Also of importance, there are many qualitative outcomes, such as community impact, that are not part of the financial statements and must be considered in the evaluation.

Board directors must trust in the ability of the CEO they have selected to do the job, and clearly make the person accountable.  Since there is no complete long-term performance bottom line for many nonprofit organizations, and the costs of obtaining sold qualitative performance metrics is so high, most nonprofits have to rely on imperfect metrics to obtain a semblance of comprehensive long-term performance. *

For a nonprofit organization, it is necessary to hire a president/CEO or executive in whom the board can place a high degree of trust. But along with the trust, the board must ROBUSTLY annually evaluate the CEO and the organization’s performance.

  • See my blog: http://bit.ly/yfRZpz and my 2010 article “Using Imperfect Metrics Well: Tracking Progress and Driving Change.” I can send a copy of the article to those who request it.   eugenefram@yahoo.com

What’s in a Name? Benefits of the Nonprofit Executive Director Title.

What’s in a Name? Benefits of the Nonprofit Executive Director Title.

By Eugene Fram

The most viewed blog on my nonprofit governance site is an article I wrote in 2008, “What’s in a Name? Benefits of the President/CEO Title. This article has had a stream of national and international viewing, sometimes as many as 50 daily. (Note this is four years after original publication.)

Recently, I read a review of the article, suggesting I didn’t cover the benefits of the nonprofit Executive Director title, probably the more common title for the chief executive of nonprofits. Following is a brief listing when the title is useful. (more…)

Choosing the Right CEO: A Nonprofit Perspective

Choosing the Right CEO: A Nonprofit Perspective

By Eugene Fram

According to one well-known analyst, Ram Charon, there are five essential elements for-profit boards fail to consider in selecting CEO’s. Following are my interpretations of how these relate to nonprofit boards: (more…)