March 26, 2013, 4:30 pm
A rising generation of younger donors and philanthropic leaders could bring new money to nonprofits and fresh energy to their boardrooms—if boards can overcome their current dysfunction enough to engage them.
Next-gen donors’ appetite for engagement was cited earlier this year in one of the first large studies of high-capacity donors in their 20s and 30s (a report that received grant support from the Meyer Foundation, where I work, and several other grant makers). Some of the 300 participants were entrepreneurs in the early stages of their careers who are just beginning to think of themselves as philanthropists. Others came from families with established foundations that will soon be governed by a new generation of trustees.
Whatever their current circumstances, these donors are poised to become even more influential in the decades to come as control of major institutions and a…
January 29, 2013, 3:55 pm
Several weeks ago I had lunch with a board member of a small community-based nonprofit that does important work in the D.C. region. The board member also happens to be a seasoned consultant who has written several books on fundraising.
That’s why I was surprised when he advanced an argument I’ve heard many times from board members of other organizations. It goes like this:
“Our executive director is terrific but doesn’t have a background in fundraising or time to focus on it. Our board members want to help, but they don’t have friends with deep pockets and are not fundraising experts. What we really need is a topnotch fundraising professional on staff. But we can’t raise enough money to hire one, so we’re stuck. We’re never going to be really good at raising money until we can hire a development director.”
Some parts of this argument do ring true. UnderDeveloped, a new national…
September 11, 2012, 10:53 am
The recent controversy surrounding Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the leadership role of its founder, Nancy Brinker, illustrates the special challenges that confront the boards of nonprofits led by their founders, as well as why those organizations need strong, independent boards.
Ms. Brinker, who created the nonprofit in 1982, announced last month that she was stepping down as Komen’s chief executive. Her decision is the latest in a series of turbulent events for the charity, which is still looking to undo the damage that followed its decision to withdraw, and then reinstate, grants to Planned Parenthood.
Although she will no longer be the organization’s chief executive, Ms. Brinker will retain her lifetime seat on Komen’s eight-member board. She will also be chairwoman of the board’s executive committee, which is responsible for hiring her successor.
As a result, Ms. Brinker …
July 9, 2012, 8:50 am
Last month, after a dramatic and unusually public example of board governance gone awry, the University of Virginia’s board reversed itself and reinstated the institution’s president less than two weeks after accepting her forced resignation.
For board members of all types of nonprofits, this episode should serve as a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when a board and its leaders are not clear about their roles. Trouble often erupts when people forget that boards govern, board members do not.
The drama at the University of Virginia began in mid-June when the chairman and deputy chair of the board met with Teresa Sullivan, the university’s highly regarded and popular president, who had been on the job for less than two years.
The board chairman, Helen Dragas, a University of Virginia alumna who heads a Virginia Beach homebuilding firm, told Ms. Sullivan that she had lined…
June 12, 2012, 7:13 pm
Much of the work being done to strengthen nonprofit board performance (by national and local organizations, funders, and consultants) has traditionally focused on helping boards and board members better understand their roles.
As a result, anyone with a little spare time and access to the Web can take a crash course on the basics of board effectiveness. Those with an appetite to dig deeper can find books to buy, training sessions to attend, and organizations to join.
So why are many boards still falling short?
One possibility is that we have misdiagnosed the causes of lackluster board performance—and our faulty diagnosis has led us to prescribe the wrong cure.
What if the problem is not that board members misunderstand their responsibilities. What if the problem is that nonprofits just can’t find the right board members?
Boards are, after all, teams of individuals…
March 8, 2012, 5:13 pm
While speaking at a conference of Northern Ireland’s nonprofit chief executives last month, I noted that a small but growing number of people are questioning whether the current model of nonprofit governance—a volunteer board drawn from the community (however broadly defined), working in partnership with the chief executive—is so broken that it needs to be scrapped in favor of something better.
I should have known that someone in the audience would then ask a perfectly logical follow-up question: If we got rid of the current model, what would take its place?
Caught off-guard, I sputtered.
I eventually mentioned the author and consultant John Carver’s Policy Governance Model, which has been around for more than 20 years and is more a refinement and clarification of the current model than an alternative to it. Policy Governance encourages boards to focus on organizational…
February 27, 2012, 11:03 am
Last month’s abrupt closure of Hull House, a venerable organization that provided an array of social services to thousands of low-income Chicago residents, is a pointed reminder that many nonprofits operate with precarious finances. The organization’s collapse also provides a sobering lesson for nonprofit boards and chief executives.
Hull House was started by Nobel laureate Jane Addams in 1889 to help Chicago’s immigrants build “responsible, self-sufficient lives.” Until last month, Hull House had continued Addams’s legacy by offering foster-care services, job training, counseling, and literacy and other education programs at more than 40 sites throughout Chicago.
On January 27, its 300 employees received layoff notices and final paychecks, and Hull House shut its doors.
On the day the organization closed, a blogger for Crain’s Chicago Business asked a question she said she’d be…
January 23, 2012, 5:01 pm
Recently I presented the findings of Daring to Lead 2011, a national study of nonprofit executives that I co-authored, to more than 150 executive directors and board chairs.
As I prepared that presentation, I found myself wishing we had done more analysis of executives’ responses about their relationship with their board chairs and examined more closely how those responses correlated with executives’ happiness in their jobs and satisfaction with the performance of the entire board.
CompassPoint’s Marla Cornelius, one of my co-authors, came to my rescue with some additional analysis, and the correlations are striking.
Among the 3,000 executive directors surveyed, a majority (52 percent) characterized their relationship with their board chair as functional. A large minority (39 percent) described the relationship as exceptional, and just 9 percent called it dysfunctional….
January 3, 2012, 5:34 pm
In my most recent post, I invited readers to weigh in on who is ultimately responsible for the performance of a board: the executive director or the board members themselves.
A majority of those who commented (11 of 19, or about 58 percent) said the executive was ultimately responsible for board performance. But it was hardly a ringing endorsement (even though I agree).
As I re-read the comments, two things stood out.
First, this is a complicated issue. Many comments acknowledged the murkiness and complexity of the question—so much so that in some comments, it was hard to tell which viewpoint the comment supported.
One reader wrote that the executive director had the responsibility for sustaining board performance but that the board must first step up and accept its responsibility to perform. Another noted that boards depend on executive directors to “guide them to…
October 6, 2011, 9:19 am
Ask people in the nonprofit world who is to blame for poor board performance, and you won’t get agreement. Some people say it’s the board’s fault. Others say it’s the CEO’s.
Rarely do these conflicting ideas get argued in public. But at the annual meeting of BoardSource, I had the opportunity to debate the point in front of an audience. Two-person teams argued opposing points of view on that and other controversial topics. At the conclusion of our comments, the audience voted.
I was teamed with the author and nonprofit management expert Jan Masoaka. We attempted to convince our audience that the executive director is ultimately accountable and responsible for board performance.
Our opponents, Karen Beavor of the Georgia Center for Nonprofits and Dave Sternberg, a fund-raising consultant from Indianapolis, made several compelling points.
Jan and I conceded that boards are…