Category Archives: Nonprofit Boards

Nonprofit Board Accountability

Michael Kogutek, nonprofit management coach
Michael Kogutek

Board accountability is always an issue in the nonprofit world. Dr. Eugene Fram, Emeritus Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology has written a terrific article that is spot on!! 

“Clearly the purpose of a nonprofit board is to serve the constituency that establishes it—be it community, industry, governmental unit and the like. That said, the “how” to best deliver those services is often not so clear.

An executive committee, for example, can overstep its authority by assuming powers beyond its scope of responsibility. I encountered this in one executive committee when the group developed a strategic plan in an interim period where there was no permanent ED. The board then refused to share it with the incoming executive. In another instance, an executive committee took it upon itself to appoint members of the audit committee—including outsiders who were unknown to the majority on the board.

The fuzziness of boundaries and lack of defined authority call for an active nonprofit system of checks and balances. For a variety of reasons this is difficult for nonprofits to achieve:

  • A typical nonprofit board member is often recruited from a pool of friends, relatives and colleagues, and will serve, on a median average, for four to six years.   This makes it difficult to achieve rigorous debate at meetings (why risk conflicts with board colleagues?). Directors also are not as eager to thoughtfully plan for change beyond the limits of their terms. Besides discussing day-to-day issues, the board needs to make sure that immediate gains do not hamper long-term sustainability.
  • The culture of micromanagement is frequently a remnant from the early startup years when board members may have performed operational duties. In some boards it becomes embedded in the culture and continues to pervade the governmental environment, allowing the board and executive committee to involve themselves in areas that should be delegated to management
  • The executive team is a broad partnership of peers–board members, those appointed to the executive committee and the CEO. The executive committee is legally responsible to act for the board between meetings–the board must ratify its decisions. But unchecked, the executive committee can assume dictatorial powers whose conclusions must be rubber-stamped by the board.

Mitigating Oversight Barriers: There is often little individual board members can do to change the course when the DNA has become embedded in the organization. The tradition of micromanagement, for example, is hard to reverse, especially when the culture is continually supported by a succession of like-minded board chairs and CEOs. No single board member can move these barriers given the brevity of the board terms. But there are a few initiatives that three or four directors, working in tandem, can take to move the organization into a high-performance category.

  • Meetings: At the top of every meeting agenda there needs to be listed at least one policy or strategy related item. When the board discussion begins to wander, the chair should remind the group that they are encroaching on an area that is management’s responsibility. One board I observed wasted an hour’s time because the chair had failed to intercept the conversation in this manner. Another board agreed to change its timing of a major development event, then spent valuable meeting time suggesting formats for the new event—clearly a management responsibility to develop.
  • “New Age” Board Members: While millennial managers are causing consternation in some nonprofit and business organizations, certain changes in nonprofits are noteworthy. Those directors in the 40- and- under age bracket need some targeted nurturing. I encountered a new young person who energized the board with her eagerness to try innovative development approaches. She was subsequently appointed to the executive committee, deepening her view of the organization and priming her for senior leadership.Board members who understand the robust responsibilities of a 21st century board need to accept responsibilities for mentoring these new age board people, despite their addictions to their electronic devices.
  • Experienced Board Members: Directors that have served on other high-performance boards have the advantage of being familiar with modern governance processes and are comfortable in supporting change. They are needed to help boards, executive committees and CEOs to move beyond the comfortable bounds of the past. They will be difficult to recruit, but they are required ingredients for successful boards.’

Author: Michael Kogutek, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Leadership Qualities for the Crisis

Adrianne Geiger Dumond

How many of you are as sick as I am of hearing and seeing the words COVID-19.

I couldn’t even put it in this title. But it is affecting all of our lives – and each person differently. As quoted in an article I just read, “a paramedic will understand only that the hospital is overloaded, a hospital administrator will only know that the generator is not working.”[1]

I believe it is time to consider what leadership skills and qualities can best guide this situation. I will quote generously from an author, Gene Klann who has written a book on crisis management and is referenced in the article below.[2]

Klann cites 5 ways to lead and adapt to the crisis. I will briefly cover those:

  1. Seek credible information. I think this is difficult because there is so much information available. I believe it is important to check with staff and employees to see what information they are following. This is a good opportunity for leaders to calm, support and build a reassuring culture.
  2. Use appropriate communication channels. Of course transparency is of the utmost importance in a crisis. Klann has these points to stress: Information
    • reduces emotional distress caused by the unknown;
    • diminishes fear;
    • provides tactical guidance;
    • demonstrates to employees that their leaders are concerned, involved, knowledgeable, and on top of the situation.
  3. Explain what your organization is doing about the crisis. If you are in charge take charge, be proactive, take initiative. Do something even if it might be wrong. Paralysis and over analyzing may be riskier. 
  4. Be present, Visible, and Available. Let employees know how they can best reach you for status updates and any questions they may have. Flexible leadership ranks over organizational protocol and bureaucracy.                                                                                          

Dedicate organizational resources for future needs. Many organizations don’t take advantage of what they have learned after the crisis. This time is valuable to track lessons learned as a critical step to a Crisis Action Plan.                


[1][1] Gene Klann, 5 Ways to Lead and Adapt Through a Crisis, Center for Creative Leadership, March 24, 2020

[2] Gene Klann, Crisis Leadership, Using Military Lessons, Organizational Experiences, and the Power of Influence to Lessen the Impact of Chaos on the People You Lead.

Author: Adrianne Geiger DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Do You Have A Balanced Board?

Dave Blankenhorn

Do you have one or two members that dominate the meetings and the conversations?

If that is the case it is the job of the Chair or E.D. to bring it back in line and to prevent an imbalance in the first place. A good Chair knows that that no one member can possibly know everything and should emphasize that the Board can only thrive with input from every member.

Even with the best guidance and intentions some Board members may still drown out other opinions. While these members can add to the discussion, they often tend to eliminate other points of view. If this is allowed to continue the Board may lose its balance and engagement.

To deal with these types of members the Chair should not allow them to dominate the meeting by thanking them for their contributions and asking others to offer their opinions on the topic at hand. If this approach doesn’t work perhaps a quiet private meeting is in order to let them know they tend to stifle other member discussions which is not healthy in the long run. If the member does not change his/her behavior you might consider their resignation.

On the flip side of the issue the Chair or E.D. should also meet with quiet or disengaged members. You need to let them know their opinions are valued and needed by the organization.

Another helpful tip for a balanced Board would to have annual discussions on how your meetings are going. What the pros and cons are and what needs to be improved? Talk about the items on the agenda, the time taken on each item and whether all members are involved. This may tie in with the annual director evaluations.

Following these best practices should be very helpful for the organization in achieving its mission.

 

Author: Dave Blankenhorn, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Do You Have An Effective Board of Directors?

Dave Blankenhorn

Do you have an effective Board of Directors? Are they providing the kind of direction that is important to fulfill the organization’s mission or do they meet without any meaningful outcome?

One way to find out is to have the Board do an annual self-assessment of themselves or one another. A good self-assessment can lead to improved performance for the Directors and the organization but only if you are intentional about the questions you ask and constructive about the follow up.

To do director self-assessments you can either hire a consultant to help perform them, handle them internally or pursue a blended strategy. Handling them in house maybe the least expensive option but an experienced consultant may save you time, bring impartial outside perspective and help you gather and present results to boost group performance.

If the decision is made to go it alone the Chairman and a few key board members should meet to identify the assessment goals and design the process including questionnaires and interviews. Goals should include producing a report with a SWOT analysis, spotlighting the successes or failures of commitments made by the Board and the overall effectiveness of the Board leadership. The report should also include whether they need to add new board members with specific skill sets, identify training needs, and an evaluation of the meetings and materials. Any other specific issues should also be addressed.

Peer reviews are sometimes part of an assessment and that means anonymous questionnaires. Digital questionnaires can be delivered online and streamline the process.  When completed and compiled the report should then be presented to the Board as a group with specific goals.

 

Author: Dave Blankenhorn, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Performance Review for the CEO/ED

Adrianne Geiger Dumond

A performance review of the CEO/ED (Executive Director) one time a year is recommended as good governance. Yet, when I have asked some of these leaders in the past, the answer often is “ Oh, I’ve never had one” … or “I had one several years ago.”

The questions are, How can a leader grow and reach new heights without support and feedback from the Board? How can a Board really support a mission without understanding the leader’s challenges and strengths?

There are assessment tools and even resources on the Internet about this process and protocol, but I believe the simplest of discussions with everyone notified and involved produces the healthiest and most satisfactory outcomes.

• The Board chair meets with the CEO/ED to state purpose, ask about a future date, and ask if there are any items he/she would like feedback on.

• The Board chair reports to the Board the findings and sets a future date, asking that all members please attend.

In the meeting there are two (2) simple questions to answer:

1. What did the leader accomplish this year, what about effective communication with the Board, with donor and community relationships, success with leadership initiatives, and meeting the strategic goals of the nonprofit? What are his/her strengths?

2. What would the Board like to have him/her consider doing differently?

These questions should be tackled separately. That is, question 1 should be discussed by the entire Board – if small, in one group. If the Board is more than 6, then in small groups, and then each small group reports to the others. There is knowledge and information shared in this process that makes the Board a stronger team.

After there is closure to the first question, the second question is addressed in the same way.

The discussions and notes from these two sessions must be confidential and housed in the Board chair’s possession – never in the office. Feedback to the CEO/ED should convey support, appreciation, and should also touch on any development goals for the leader.

Author: Adrianne Geiger DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Three Reasons to Hire a Coach

Karen Haren

Leaders in not-for-profit organizations frequently ask why would I hire a coach. In my own experience as a leader and in coaching executives, here are three reasons you might want to hire a coach.

It can be lonely at the top. Even though there are others who work in your organization, you can feel isolated. As a leader, you wrestle with many issues that you can’t share with your colleagues, direct reports, boss or the board. A coach could help you talk through the problem or opportunity and develop your strategies.

You are dealing with change. You are stepping into uncharted territory with a new job, project or responsibilities. You may want to make a career move or you want to retire. A new phase can be unsettling and cause insecurity. A coach can listen to you and help you chart your course. A coach can accelerate your learning through the transition.

You are up to your assets in alligators. It’s hard to remember your objective was to drain the swamp. You may be stressing over a personnel problem or worried that you can’t raise enough money to keep the organization afloat. The three most frequent subjects raised by not for profit executives are personnel, fund raising and boards of directors. A coach can let you vent and help you work through options to chart your course.

Coaching is a relationship process that can help you solve problems, manage change and/or reach goals. Being clear about your reason for hiring a coach will accelerate the process of reaching your objective.

Author:  Karen Haren, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Don’t Forget to Plan for the Unexpected

Dave Blankenhorn

Often in our planning we forget to look at what might happen in favor what we want to happen. As we consider our goals for the coming year give some thought to what might upset your best laid plans.

What internal and external threats could disrupt your mission?

Internal risks could include unplanned expenses, disruptions in revenue, inadequate reserves, or IT crashes, internal fraud or theft, inadequate insurance coverage, hacking, or reputation risk.

External issues could be how to operate if there is a natural disaster, economic downturn, or regulation changes.

Identify the risks, measure the possible impact of each, determine the probability of the occurrence of the risk, then prepare a plan to mitigate those with the highest potential to damage your organization.

These should be then incorporated as part of your overall plan tied together with your contingency plan.

Continue to review and update your assumptions during the year. As the Boy Scouts say: “Be Prepared”.

Author:  David Blankenhorn, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Choosing Dogs & Board Members

The history of how dogs have been utilized to accomplish a wide variety of tasks is fascinating. The unique personality and physical characteristics of the breeds makes each one ideally suited for taking on some pretty demanding challenges.

Michael Kogutek, nonprofit management coach
Michael Kogutek

One of the biggest challenges that ECofOC coaches confront is helping Executive Directors figure out who are good candidates to become board members. I came across this article by Hardy Smith, a Non-profit consultant from Florida. I found it to be spot on. Haley gave me permission to reproduce it here.” When watching the annual Westminster Dog Show, I am always intrigued by comments about each breed’s particular purpose and capability traits.

There are hunters, workers, leaders, protectors, and companions.

From water repellent coats and webbed paws for working in water to thick warm coats for cold climates to small bodies with short legs to big bodies with long legs, each breed is equipped with the right tools for getting specific jobs done.

Owners have depended on their dogs and their unique performance abilities for hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of years. Each breed’s record of competence has been well demonstrated.

Westminster Show announcers always stress the importance of considering a dog’s distinctive personality and physical characteristics as important factors when deciding which dog to bring into a home.

Some breeds are low maintenance and are great around children while others can demonstrate challenging behavior that requires patience and a commitment to training.

The consideration process for choosing the right dog can be applied to finding a new nonprofit or association board member.

What specific talents and abilities does your board need? What personality characteristics should be present to ensure someone will be a good fit?

What are your prospective board member’s demonstrated behavior and performance tendencies? Will patience and extra training be required?

Just as not all dogs are the same, neither are board members.

If you choose your board members with as much care and thought as you would take with choosing a dog, you will have a board’s best friend!”

  Hardy Smith Consulting http://www.hardysmith.com

Author: Michael Kogutek, Executive Coaches of Orange County, ECofOC.org

Do you have Board term limits?

Dave Blankenhorn

 

A recent survey on boards by a community bank trade group highlights issues pertinent to not just banks but also to nonprofit organizations.

While many board members are “baby boomers” and getting older many boards have avoided the issues of term limits. This is a touchy subject as many are “founders” and feel a proprietary interest in the group. On the flip side without limits directors can become stagnant or cliquish and can stunt the success of the organization. In some cases, the long-term directors may prevent a younger and more diverse crop of leaders from joining the board.

Advantages to setting term limits include: the ability to add directors with specific skills, avoids stagnation, group-think, boredom and loss of commitment, avoids the potential for unhealthy insider attitudes, allows for a respectful and efficient way to remove ineffective directors, and most importantly brings in new ideas, perspectives and contacts.

There are some disadvantages to term limits; potential loss of expertise, loss of organizational memory, the time spent required to recruit and educate new directors, a loss in board cohesiveness and possible donation losses.

It is important for the current board leadership to step back and view what is right for them. While new blood and fresh ideas are vital to any organization so to are the loyalties and knowledge of existing members.

A way to retain these valuable people would be to set up an “Honorary Board” informing them of current activities, soliciting their input, and giving them the recognition, they so deserve.

No matter the path you choose about this issue not making one is a decision in itself.

Author: Dave Blamkenhorn, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC,org

Can Nonprofits Meet the Challenge of Social Change?

Adrianne Geiger Dumond

 

 

There is a movement afoot that supports “collective impact” by nonprofits. That is, for agencies serving similar (or the same) target populations, they should consider collaborative planning and actions with government, funders, and foundations, to better maximize resources. With trends that predict less government funding and an exponential need for services, proponents of this movement tend to minimize the effectiveness of individual organizations tackling a major social problem.

Perhaps the best example of this approach is the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force that unites the various services that respond to this need. There is law enforcement, rescuing agencies, housing agencies that all must play an important role in fulfilling the mission. I have written in a past article of the changing nature of governance in nonprofits because of similar opinions about how social change needs can be more effectively handled. And there are other national sources who are expanding on this theme.

There is UCLA and the Center for Civil society that has collaborated with consultants to espouse the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative. The Stanford Social Innovation Review has an article and movement titled “Collective Impact” which I highly recommend for any agency thinking about the shift.

The thesis for Collective Impact is that ‘large scale social change comes from better cross-coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organizations.’ The article states five conditions of collective success:

  • Common agenda – a shared vision of change.
  • Shared measurement systems – claiming web-based technologies have enabled common systems for reporting performance and for measuring outcomes.
  • Mutually reinforcing activities – participants undertake activities for which they are best trained and accountable, but that support and coordinate with the actions of others.
  • Continuous communication
  • Backbone Support Organization – a separate organization and staff with a specific set of skills that provides the infrastructure that is required for the     collaboration to succeed.

I encourage you to be aware of these changing trends even if your organization is thriving. I believe that this knowledge should be part of a strategic planning process to help participants know the reality of what is in the nonprofit universe of thinking.

Author:  Adrianne Geiger DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org