Several Blue Avocado readers responded to our query about unusual board terms, and we were intrigued by comments from Jeanetta Issa, CEO of Child Abuse Prevention in Kansas City; we talk with her here:
Q: What are the board terms in your organization?
Jeanetta Issa: The initial term of office is for one year. Then based on the activity level and commitment to the organization, they can be asked for a second term of three years. After that they can be asked for a third term, for a total of six years of service. So it's 1 - 3 - 2.
Originally, in a past organization, the board wanted to make it easier to turn over non-productive or even destructive board members. One time we had such a destructive board member, totally attempting to draw our organization into her own agenda, that . . .
Although every nonprofit has a mission statement that defines the organization's core purpose and work, many are unaware of its useful companion, the business model statement: a brief summary that spells out the organization's economic drivers. Like a mission statement, a business model statement acts as a touchstone: a reminder and a guide for the organization's focus and strategies.
Nonprofit executives and board members usually have a good sense of the various types of funding that support the organization, but they may have a harder time explaining the organization's business model. Let's imagine a childcare center with the following mission statement: "We provide high quality child care in a cross-cultural setting." A first draft of their business model statement . . .
Despite the importance of the nonprofit board, there's strikingly little clarity about who is responsible for its performance. The answer in this Board Cafe article might surprise you:
Who is responsible for the board's doing its job? And a related question: who's responsible for improving a board that's asleep, weak, or gone amok? One answer might be: the board is responsible for the board! Or possibly, it's the board chair who is responsible for the board. Or sometimes: it's both.
We agree with Peter Drucker: The responsibility for the board's effective work -- both governance and support -- is ultimately the responsibility of the executive director.
This can sound paradoxical (or even depressing) at first, but veteran successful executives know the truth of this statement. Executives take on their shoulders the responsibility for the success or failure of the organization -- every part of it. If there were any other part of the organization that was under-performing, no executive would shrug, do nothing, and . . .
Most of the time, nonprofit boards work through consensus. But what if you think a serious mistake is being made? Sometimes knowing what to do in advance if such a situation arises can help you understand the situation more clearly as it unfolds:
Have you ever been in a situation where the board has made a decision that you think is very wrong and will have severe negative consequences for the organization? Or where you think an important decision has been railroaded through?
As a board member myself and something of a contrarian, I've found myself in these circumstances from time to time over the years. For example, on the board of an organization with a sizable financial deficit, I found myself and one other board member losing a seventeen-to-two vote to take funds from the organization's endowment for current operating expenses. As a member of CompassPoint's consulting group for many years, I saw more serious cases, too, such as ones where board members suspected illegal activity or a takeover of the organization by a few aggressive (and often new) board members.
It's important to remember that reasonable people can disagree in good faith on important issues. The following situations may give you some food for thought if a case that goes beyond reasonable disagreement were to arise for you.
Question: The board I'm on is about to make a bad decision. Although . . .
There are two things to worry about with copyrights: protecting original material that your organization has created, and making sure that your organization isn't improperly using material that someone else owns. Blue Avocado asked copyright attorney Kate Spelman to help us with these issues, and she generously gave all of us her expertise and time.
It's the phone call no board member wants or ever expects to get: word that the organization's executive director is being investigated by the police for embezzlement. In this First Person Nonprofit article, Vernon Waldren, board member of the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands in Omaha, Nebraska, talks candidly about how the story unfolded:
We got a call from someone at a different nonprofit letting us know that our executive director was probably going to be arrested for embezzlement at their organization, where he was on the board. Our [board] president got that call on a Monday morning, and she called a meeting of the executive committee at 5:00 that evening. What we learned was . . .
In Part 1 of this series on diversity, we discussed mission reasons, business reasons and other ways to think about diversity on nonprofit boards. In Part 2 we looked at diversity at the nonprofit sector level and the importance of organizations of color in the nonprofit ecosystem. Here in Part 3 we offer specific, practical tips for recruiting people "unlike ourselves" for nonprofit boards.
One of the maxims of looking for a job is that it's more effective to look for a particular kind of job (as a waitress or as a teacher in a preschool) than it is to look for "a job -- any job!" In the same way, knowing why you want to recruit someone of a different race, let's say, and knowing what you want that person to do, is more effective (and sincere) than "we just need a Latino."
In Part 1 of this series we discussed four types of reasons to recruit people with backgrounds out of the mainstream, including people of color, people with disabilities, lesbian and gay individuals, and so forth. We also talked about involving people from our constituencies, whatever those may be, and offered several sample diversity policies. We recognized that for organizations of color, women's organizations, immigrant organizations, and others, demographic diversity may be inappropriate, or framed differently. In this article we build from there for an organization that knows what board members need to do, and as a result, who they might need to be.
The worst ways to talk about recruitment
When board recruitment comes up on the agendas of most boards . . .
Part One in a series of three on nonprofits and diversity:
Just last week a new report showed that while 57% of California's population is comprised of people of color, just 28% of nonprofit board members reflect that demographic reality. While not all boards want to diversify their racial and ethnic composition, many who do are struggling to clearly define their reasons for diversification and are uncertain as to how to proceed effectively.
Often the objective is to add people of color to a predominantly white board, but other situations exist as well, such as adding Latinos to an Asian board, or younger people to a predominantly older board. Over the last decade or so, the way we think about diversity has been changing. This article -- the first of three in a series -- provides a fresh and practical focus on board diversity.
One thing we know about working to address demographic diversity: . . .
Can nonprofit boards vote by mail and email? As is true of so many matters, there are legal answers and sensible answers to this question, which may not be the same. Attorney Gene Takagi and Emily Nicole Chan discuss both in this helpful article:
One of the many Blue Avocado readers who contributed to this article by sharing their experiences and viewpoints commented, "Over the last year we had new members of our Board who used electronic communication as an extension of the board's actions. It was a disaster." In sharp contrast, another reader was chipper: "We have had great success with making decisions between board meetings."
We'll start by discussing the legalities, then take a look at the advantages and disadvantages, and finally, we'll offer guidelines and a sample policy for using email voting.
First, the legal issues
Can nonprofit boards legally vote by email? The short answer: Yes, in most U.S. states, but typically only if the vote is consistent with the requirements . . .
One way to be sure that everyone on the board is clear on his or her responsibilities is to adopt a board member "contract." Not intended to be legally enforced, the contract outlines explicitly what is expected of individual board members, and how the organization will in turn be responsible to them.
This contract differs from similar documents in some important ways. While most board agreements describe board member responsibilities, this one also outlines the responsibilities of the organization to the board member. A key principle underlying this document is the board's responsibility is to hold the organization accountable to its constituencies and to the public. Just as important, the contract communicates core values about debate and disagreement, accountability, and board-staff relationships.
The board chair should sign two copies of this agreement for each board member. Each new board member should sign both, return one copy to the board chair, and keep the other for reference. Signing the agreements ensures that the board members will read them, and is a symbolic gesture about their importance.
Sample Board Member Contract
I, _______, understand that as a member of the Board of Directors of _______, I have a legal and ethical responsibility to ensure that the organization does the best work possible in pursuit of its goals. I believe in the purpose and the mission of the organization, and I will act responsibly and prudently as its steward. As part of my responsibilities as a board member:
1. I will interpret the organization's work and values to the community, represent the organization, and act as a spokesperson.
2. In turn, I will interpret our constituencies' needs and values to the organization . . .