Author Archives: Rick Moyers
September 21, 2011, 12:24 pm
In two recent posts, I asked if foundations should be doing more to strengthen boards and whether we expect too much from boards. More than 50 readers provided thoughtful comments, with a range of perspectives, that are well worth reading.
Much to my surprise, most readers who commented thought foundations should indeed do more to strengthen boards. A third suggested more grants to support board development. A handful requested more foundation-sponsored training for boards, and one practical soul suggested that foundation staff members roll up their sleeves and help grantees find board members.
Your comments helped overcome my initial skepticism about whether boards need more intervention from foundations. Most of you think boards need the help. And the comments from my colleagues at other foundations indicate that a growing number of grant makers agree—and are tackling the…
August 23, 2011, 9:14 am
The more effort nonprofit leaders put into supporting their boards, the happier they are with the board’s performance—but few leaders spend enough hours working with trustees to make a difference.
That insight comes from a report called The Board Paradox, by CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation, where I work. It’s the last in a series of three briefs that report on a national study of more than 3,000 nonprofit executive directors.
The briefs present survey results that were not included in the recent Daring to Lead 2011 report, which was released last month. (I am a co-author of the main report and the sole author of the brief on executives and boards.)
The online survey for Daring to Lead asked executives a series of questions about their boards. We asked about their relationships with their board chairs, how much time they spent working with and supporting their boards, …
June 30, 2011, 9:37 am
Nonprofit board members did not get very high marks from their executive directors in the recently released “Daring to Lead 2011” report.
The report, produced by the Meyer Foundation and CompassPoint, is based on a national survey of more than 3,000 executive directors of small to midsize nonprofit organizations. (I’m a vice president at Meyer and a co-author of the report.)
Although “Daring to Lead 2011″ was intended as a study of executive directors, it is often difficult to separate the issues that affect executive directors from those that affect boards. And it’s a reminder that executives and boards have a complicated and symbiotic relationship.
In general, the report is critical of boards, citing relatively low levels of executive-director satisfaction with board performance, modest levels of board-member engagement (at least as reported by executive directors) in almost…
June 20, 2011, 10:09 pm
When I started this blog last fall, an old friend who had been out of touch for a few years e-mailed me to share his thoughts about what needs to change before we will see widespread improvement in the effectiveness of nonprofit boards.
My friend is a very savvy retired chief executive with decades of experience working with boards, so I respect his opinion, which is that boards are never going to improve significantly unless, in his words, “foundations demand it.”
Foundations are a smaller player in the nonprofit world than most people realize (and than those of us who work at foundations are sometimes willing to admit). Grants from foundations represent only a small fraction—just 13 percent in 2009—of total charitable giving to nonprofits. That may sound substantial, but private contributions are also only a fraction of all nonprofit income.
May 6, 2011, 10:17 am
This is the final in a series of four posts on the subject of nonprofit operating reserves. Earlier posts flagged reserves as a topic that deserves more attention, explained what reserves are and why they matter, and discussed how organizations build reserves.
This post addresses two additional roadblocks to building adequate reserves: the perception among executive directors and board members that nonprofit organizations cannot operate at a surplus (or “profit”) simply because they are nonprofits and the impression that accumulating reserves will make the organization appear less deserving of funding.
In essence, the two ideas amount to the same thing: the perception that there’s a penalty—either legal or psychological—for building operating reserves. Which is not true.
Or at least it’s not for the overwhelming majority of organizations. The U.S. Better Business Bureau’s…
May 3, 2011, 11:30 am
Since 2009, when the Meyer Foundation supported an Urban Institute study of the operating reserves of nonprofits in Washington, I’ve spoken about the topic of operating reserves at numerous conferences and other gatherings. I usually try to make most of the same points and arguments covered in the two earlier blog posts.
Whenever I speak about this topic, the reactions from board members and executive directors in the audience are almost always the same. They look bewildered, as if I’d just suggested that they try to obtain a pound of enriched uranium or an albino giraffe. And then, hesitantly, someone will ask, “How do we get these ‘operating reserves’ you keep preaching about?”
My answer almost…
April 29, 2011, 9:29 am
My most recent post noted that one of the reasons nonprofit boards don’t have more conversations about operating reserves is because there isn’t a commonly understood definition of reserves.
The Nonprofit Operating Reserves Initiative Workgroup—an all-volunteer group of nonprofit leaders, financial-management consultants, and others—recognized this problem in 2008 and since then has produced a white paper and a toolkit to help nonprofits and their boards better understand what reserves are and why they need them.
Those resources propose several useful and detailed definitions of operating reserves.
Here’s my own simplified version: operating reserves are liquid, unrestricted assets that an organization can use to support its operations in the event of an unanticipated loss of revenue or increase in expenses.
“Liquid” means that operating reserves are either cash or…
April 26, 2011, 10:46 am
With so much uncertainty over the future of federal, state, and local government support for nonprofit organizations, it’s more important than ever that nonprofit organizations have operating reserves as a cushion against sudden and unexpected losses of income.
Yet the subject of operating reserves doesn’t get much play in nonprofit boardrooms, and I’m not sure why.
OK, maybe I do have a few ideas.
The general aversion of many boards to talking about finances in any detail creates an initial roadblock to conversations about reserves.
And the lack of a widely understood and commonly used definition of operating reserves doesn’t help. It’s hard to talk about something if you don’t know what it is.
Finally, common misconceptions about operating reserves—not just among board members but also among nonprofit executives, funders, and even financial-management…
March 28, 2011, 11:46 am
For the past decade or so, a small but growing group of professionals has been fighting an uphill battle to promote the use of coaching as a leadership-development tool for executive directors.
Coaching—long used by companies to support and develop high-potential executives—is a one-on-one, time-limited, customized consulting relationship between someone with leadership and coaching experience and the person being coached. (This definition of coaching, along with a great deal of other information about coaching in the nonprofit context, was developed as part of the Coaching and Philanthropy Project.)
At its best, coaching helps nonprofit leaders become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses, act more purposefully, and draw on their own intuition and experience to solve problems and develop their skills as leaders. Coaching can help address the isolation inherent in the…
March 14, 2011, 1:21 pm
The forced resignation of Vivian Schiller as NPR’s chief executive offers a sobering case study for nonprofit-board watchers everywhere and raises at least two questions that should be asked more often by every nonprofit board.
In light of the potential problems outlined in my post “When Executive Directors Disappear,” there’s much to be praised in the way NPR’s board handled Ms. Schiller’s departure.
The board acted quickly and openly in asking for her resignation following the release of a covertly videotaped meeting in which NPR’s senior fund-raising executive made damaging and inappropriate comments.
The board then issued a relatively gracious statement acknowledging Ms. Schiller’s contributions and expressing “genuine regret” over her departure. NPR had an emergency succession plan in place to help smooth the transition and ensure continuity of leadership.