Occasionally, a board member needs to be removed from the board. In some cases, a conflict of interest or unethical behavior may be grounds to remove an individual from the board. In other cases, the behavior of a board member may become so obstructive that the board is prevented from functioning effectively.
The best boards often have strongly felt disagreements and heated arguments. Challenging groupthink and arguing for an unpopular viewpoint are not grounds for getting rid of a board member. But if a board member consistently disrupts meetings or is otherwise destructive and demoralizing, it may be appropriate to consider removing the individual from the board:
1. Personal intervention
One-to-one intervention by the board president or other board leadership is a less formal solution to managing problem board members. If a board member has failed to attend several meetings in a row, or has become an impediment to the board's work, the board president can meet informally with the board member in question. In person or on the telephone, the board president can request a resignation. Examples:
"I respect your strong opinion that we have made the wrong decision about . . .
Q: Help, we have a wonderful staff member who is involved in a domestic violence situation and her boyfriend has threatened to come to our office to harm her . . . what should our nonprofit do to protect her and the other staff?
With one in four women in the United States experiencing domestic violence during their lifetimes (reference), this situation may arise at some point for many nonprofits. It's good that you are paying attention before an incident occurs. As just one example of what can happen, just last month three employees were killed in a workplace shooting in Albuquerque that was sparked by a domestic dispute.
Before we get to steps you should take immediately, let's start by defining domestic violence in the workplace: "violent behavior perpetrated against an employee while the person is working or . . .
Tracking volunteer time: sounds like another chore? Actually it can help you meet match requirements, improve your financial statement presentations, and reduce liability. In this article, CPA Dennis Walsh of North Carolina explains why and how to include volunteer time in your budgets and financials:
An all-volunteer suicide hotline was having a hard time raising funds. Its total budget was $45,000, which paid for a small office, telephone lines, and advertising. It asked for operating support, overhead and other funds in its fundraising proposals. Unfortunately, many foundations and donors are allergic to those terms. But when the hotline added up the time its volunteers spent answering phones, attending trainings and . . .
Executive director Vu Le writes with verve and humor about that peculiar, nerve-wracking nonprofit ritual known as the foundation site visit:
This week, Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) had a site visit: We're always telling people how cool our programs are, but to have funders actually come down and visit is affirming. And terrifying. It's a weird contradiction, like it’s your birthday -- yay! -- but you're also getting a colonoscopy.
Before a visit, we try to prep as much as we can. Making a good impression is important. This includes tidying up the place and putting away our fold-out cot, which staff use for naps during particularly long days -- and some weekends. I also gather up all the papers on my desk and shove them into the overhead bin.
The staff's personal appearance is also taken into consideration. The more funding is at stake, the better we dress:
< $10,000: we dress a little better than our usual shabby
$10,000 to $19,000: we wear button-down shirts and tuck them into our jeans
$20,000 to $49,000: we wear slacks and a nice shirt, maybe a tie
$50,000 or over: I might require some of the staff to get Botox
An old joke: How do you get to become a judge on the Supreme Court?
Answer: Be the college roommate of a future U.S. Senator.
In this article we don't address the pros and cons of foundation jobs, but simply how to go about getting one.
Many nonprofit folks like the idea of working at a foundation...and why not? Foundations jobs typically are easier, pay better, and have better benefits. And, as one person put it, "I'd like to try being the person being sucked up to instead of being the person doing the sucking up."
(We know foundation staff often work hard. We also know it's one thing to work until 10 pm prepping for the foundation trustee meeting and another to work until 10 pm trying desperately to keep a Sudanese mother from being deported away from her children, or writing a grant proposal, that if it's not funded, will mean you have to lay off two staff.)
Like many employers, how foundations say they hire is often different from how they actually go about the hiring process. When we interviewed foundation staff for this article, we asked two questions: a) what advice should we give to people seeking foundation jobs, and b) how did you get your job?
Most gave similar suggestions about how to get a foundation job, but almost none of them got their own jobs that way. For example, one program officer gave the usual advice about experience in the field, but she herself got her job by coming in as the foundation's human resources manager and was then transferred to grantmaking in a field where she had no prior experience.
Mostly, it seems, foundation program staff and executives get their jobs because of who they know, not necessarily what they know. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get a program job if you want to make the leap from a community nonprofit and you’re not particularly well connected.
So, how do you get a job at a foundation?
1. Be related to the founding donor. You may have already made the strategic mistake of not having been born into the right family, or . . .
So many people hate telemarketing calls that there are whole websites devoted to ways to torment and infuriate the people making those calls. Are telemarketers evil fiends who should be despised and tortured whenever possible? We asked Blue Avocado readers for their experiences as the wretched creatures:
"I was a music teacher," said Gayle Holtman of Indianapolis, "and I needed something to do for the summer. I got this job in the basement [this is when the audience starts shouting: 'Don't go into the basement!'] and was given a stack of cards and told, 'Just call these people.' Says another former telemarketer: "One call changed my life: I called this guy and he talked to me a little bit and then got off the phone. I called a week later and he ordered two subscriptions and said, 'Anyone who can sell me over the phone I want to meet.' That's a pretty corny line, but I did go meet him, and he hired me to work at the Chamber of Commerce."
Worst situation for one reader: "I was telemarketing for . . .
I have one employee who has not come to work for more than a year due to a disability of back pain. But our HR director says I can't terminate him because he is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As a result, I can't hire anyone into the job permanently since at any moment I would have to give the job back to this person who's been gone for a year. Is our HR director right that we can't terminate this absent staffperson?
I sympathize with your frustration! You are not alone in being confused and aggravated. Basically, the ADA prohibits discrimination against "qualified individuals": disabled employees who can perform the essential functions of the job with (or without) reasonable accommodation)
The legal question is whether an employee who is unable to come to work can still be qualified to perform . . .
You may have heard of the Dual Bottom Line: the idea that strategic choices must serve both mission impact and financial viability. But how do you turn this idea into a quantitative decision-making tool? Blue Avocado columnist Steve Zimmerman summarizes the Matrix Map approach in part one of this two-part article adapted from the book he co-wrote with Jeanne Bell and Jan Masaoka: Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Choices for Financial Viability.
It's easy to embrace the concept of the Dual Bottom Line, but harder to apply it in a real-world board setting. For example, board members -- and many staff -- are seldom familiar with all of the programs and activities of the organization. While there may be a strong sense that "all our programs are great," there may not have been any discussion about which programs are, in fact, those with the greatest or most important impacts. Even people with financial expertise may feel uncertain about how to make decisions that are more nuanced than "stick to the budget and at least break even."
Board meetings unintentionally support this kind of fragmentation. They take each subject on its own: first the financial report, then the program report, and then the fundraising report. The Matrix Map aims to change that.
The Matrix Map is a visual tool that plots all . . .
Everybody has an opinion about whether nonprofit executives are paid too little or too much, but almost nobody has any real data outside their own experiences. At last! Economist Linda Lampkin (left) analyzed 100,000 nonprofit CEO salaries and has a definitive (if a little statistics-wonky) answer:
Sometimes it seems that the whole credibility of the charitable sector hinges on the issue of compensation. So what exactly is too much pay? And who is getting it? A colleague and I decided to analyze Form 990 compensation data to bring some real numbers to the discussion (database info at the end of this article).
The IRS says nonprofits must pay "reasonable compensation" but there are few specific guidelines other than that total compensation must be compared with "what ordinarily would be paid for like services by like enterprises under like circumstances." "Like enterprises" means organizations that provide similar types of services and have similarly sized budgets. Using the ERI Economic Research Institute database of compensation data from Form 990s in 2009 (the most recent full set available), we calculated the mean and median salaries for almost 100,000 CEOs of charities, by revenue size:
Analysis of 100,000 nonprofit CEO salaries
 Mean is the mathematical average, calculated by adding up the data points and then dividing by the number of data points. Median is the midpoint of the data, so the number of data points having values greater than or equal to the median is the same as the number less than or equal to it. Standard deviation, a measure of the variability of the data, is the average amount by which individual data points in a data set differ from the arithmetic mean of all the data in the set.
This article about Alcoholics Anonymous is not about how they help alcoholics, but reviews their unusual management and organizational practices, which fly in the face of much conventional wisdom about what good nonprofit management looks like. As part of our Blue Avocado philosophy of challenging assumptions, let this article stimulate your thinking about your own assumptions.
What U.S. nonprofit do you know that has more than one million members, more than 55,000 local chapters, elects its leaders, and does no advertising or fundraising?
AA may be the largest and least visible nonprofit organization serving your community. Within just a few miles of Silicon Valley where this writer lives, there are 115 meetings per week. In Humboldt County -- a rural area of California with a population of only 130,000 -- there are 174 weekly meetings! And these numbers are replicated across the globe.
AA's twelve-step philosophy and meeting structures are well known to much of the public. This article touches briefly on some of the lesser-known organizational aspects of . . .
Why is there a slightly sleazy vibe around car donations? Could it be the tacky, misleading-sounding billboards posted around town? As one example to the left, the "Outreach Center" (see news report) is reportedly a for-profit car liquidation firm (registered as a church) that receives thousands of cars a month, sells them (often for scrap), and gives a fraction of what it earns to nonprofits.
Five years ago, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) set forth helpful new regulations to guide car donations after Congress grew concerned about abuses of this practice. Let's take a quick look at abuses and the new regulations, with some tips on how you can donate your old car, and how to solicit and make use of a few great car donations a year.
Why regulators are watching
Right now my 1998 Honda Odyssey sits in front of my house with 167,000 miles on it and about that many nicks, still running great. The dealership where I was shopping for a new car offered an insulting $100 for it. Before 2005, if I had . . .
Does your radio station advertise for car donations? Blue Avocado reader Eric Haynes knows all about it – his Kansas City nonprofit accepts car donations and he's here with the inside story and how - surprisingly - to make it work on a modest scale for you:
Do you remember your first car? As I approached my 16th birthday, I daydreamed about the hot rod that would rocket me to the top of the high school social order, and rock my nights with its hi-fi stereo system.
My dad, on the other hand, had no consideration for my social status – he found me a rusting station wagon! I nearly gagged at the sight of the oversized nerdmobile.
Families greet their teenager’s first car with excitement and trepidation; nonprofit people receiving their group’s first donated car often feel much the same way.
While there are the large, national organizations that liquidate thousands of
“We should have an attorney on the board.” It’s conventional wisdom we’ve all heard. We expect that an attorney would bring legal expertise (so we wouldn’t have to pay a lawyer) and that she’ll have a skill set, personality, and community stature that would benefit our organization. Attorney Mark J.Goldstein of Milwaukee shares some thoughts . . .
Not all attorneys are wise, expert, facilitative, financially generous and well regarded. (You knew that!) With more than one million lawyers and 196 law schools in the United States, it may be hard to find the Abraham Lincoln's and Atticus Finch’s of the profession. As a result, and because a board’s success depends upon its gestalt as much as the traits of its individual members,boards should think a bit about the contributions an attorney might make:
Advantages of having an attorney on the board
1.Professionalism, conscientiousness, attention to detail. Notwithstanding all the lawyer jokes, attorneys are learned professionals. They are typically detail-oriented, conscientious, and risk-averse. Many are citizens and activists committed to doing the right thing (admittedly a fluid concept). Such an attorney is an asset to any board.
2.Legal knowledge and skills. Attorneys are trained in law school to take in legal and factual information, to analyze that information, and to make recommendations based upon fact, law, financial risk, and other factors. There are many instances where—short of serving as the organization’s attorney—this point of view can be very helpful.
Disadvantages of having an attorney on the board
1. The wrong specialty. The constantly increasing rules and regulations mean that the law is far more specialized than ever before. How helpful will an intellectual property attorney be with respect to nonprofit lobbying rules? What might a real estate attorney contribute to a discussion on...
Dear Blue Avocado: We have 18 board members, but we are wondering if we should try to keep such a large board.
At our upcoming board and senior staff retreat we will be discussing what size our board should be to be most effective. Help!!
By the way, we share credit with you for our great success in recruiting six new dynamic board members using your "Blue Ribbon Committee" method outlined at a session you led at a California Wellness conference a couple of years ago. Thank you! Signed, Nina Dooley, LINC Housing, Long Beach, California
Dear Nina and LINC Housing: You've hit upon the single most common question asked of experts on nonprofit boards: What's the right number of people to have on the board?
We're tempted to answer: "17. That's the average board size in the United States so it must be right."
Each year, hundreds of thousands of court-ordered community service workers are placed in nonprofits to fulfill their sentences. Although the image is typically one of a teenager sentenced to picking up litter, court-ordered volunteers perform a wide variety of roles in nonprofits. The very smart Susan Ellis discusses why and why not to accept such volunteers, and how to do it right.
Scene 1: You've just been caught embezzling from the auto body shop where you work as a bookkeeper. You're dreading having to do jail time, but it's your first offense, so maybe they'll go easy on you. Your attorney surprises you by suggesting that you ask the judge to sentence you to 500 hours of community service instead of 10 days in the county jail. Should you do it?
Scene 2: A finance director at a nonprofit that helps low-income women get jobs, gets a call from the volunteer center. The pitch: you'll get a volunteer, former-embezzler bookkeeper for 500 hours, no pay required, but you'll have to complete paperwork every week for her probation officer. Should you say yes?
(See the end of the article for the true-life answer.)
For the last 30 years, courts have experimented with "alternative sentencing." An offender is given the option of completing a set number of hours of unpaid work in a nonprofit organization in lieu of a fine or spending time in prison, or as an adjunct to probation or parole.
Courts like alternative sentencing because it can reduce the costs of . . .
My wife became friendly with someone she knew from PTA, and one day they invited us and our kids over for dinner. We hit it off. Ben [names have been changed] ran this nonprofit for low-income kids that did after school tutoring, had a big summer camp, and did some programs in the public schools in a low-income, mostly African American neighborhood. Something like 1,500 kids a year. Anyway, we got to be friends and he ended up asking me to join the board.
At first everything seemed fine although I wasn't sure what the board was adding to anything. I'm in banking so it was inevitable that I became the treasurer. It wasn't much work because most of the money -- maybe 80% -- came from the school district or city government. Ben really loved the kids and you could see he really bonded with them.
Then we started to lose some of the school district money. They were cutting back, things got pretty tough. We laid off a few people, but we were still bleeding . . .
With gas prices rising and everyone getting busier, more and more board members want to participate in board meetings by telephone. The advantage: more people participate. The disadvantage: there's a lot lost in human interaction for both the board member and the board-as-a-whole when the meetings aren't face-to-face. Consider this policy: a member can attend by phone only twice per year, and new board members can attend by phone only after they’ve been to at least three meetings in person. Some boards don’t permit participation by phone at all. If you do decide to have some people phoning in to meetings, don’t just use the speakerphone option on a regular phone. Invest in a dedicated speaker phone with “duplex features” so that sound can travel both directions simultaneously and everyone can actually hear.
What are the laws on board meetings by conference call?
Such matters are regulated by states (not the federal government) but . . .
We understand the reasoning that allows funding only for proven, evidence-based practices. But too often this requirement has become a club battering community nonprofits. Evaluator Clare Nolan explains how to do your best work in the evidence-based minefield:
Safer sex can be a life and death issue. And many nonprofits make safer sex education the centerpiece of their work. But how do they know whether what they're teaching is working - that lives are being saved?
A San Francisco Tenderloin neighborhood had a safer sex education program modeled after a "proven" intervention being promoted by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). But their own expertise with their population led them to want to change the model. That's why they asked me to design a program evaluation -- to see if the model could be changed.
Their education approach was modeled after a "proven" intervention being promoted by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). As part of my background research, I was surprised to learn that the intervention was first shown to be effective among a primarily gay white population in a small Southern city. Would this intervention really be successful at reducing HIV risk behaviors among residents of a diverse urban neighborhood struggling with poverty, homelessness and crime?
This situation reflects a broader trend in the nonprofit sector in which funders encourage and sometimes require nonprofits to use "evidence-based" practices and models. Evidence-based practices (EBPs) are strategies that have been shown through rigorous research to be effective. The premise sounds great. If there's strong evidence that something works, nonprofits should use it, right?
Not so fast. Models and practices with positive track records are a potentially
Thanks to dozens of Blue Avocado readers who sent in examples of nonprofits in popular culture, here's a look at the mostly-fake world of nonprofits on the big and small screens.
Queen Latifah in "Life Support" is a refreshing exception to how nonprofits are typically portrayed in popular culture. As Ana in this 2007 film, she works her butt off at Life Support, an AIDS education nonprofit, but neglects her family and endangers her own health (sound just a little familiar?). Through Ana, we catch glimpses of what we know community nonprofits to be: fiercely committed,under-staffed, and essential life support to their clients and the community writ large.
In contrast, nonprofits are more usually invisible, stereoptyped, or off-camera employers of minor characters. For example, in "The West Wing," Mary Louise Parker played the director of a women's rights group deeply enmeshed in policy work. Several "Curb Your Enthusiasm" characters interact with NRDC, a nonprofit where producer Larry David's ex-wife is active in real life. References to the real-life Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center as well as to the fictional California Arts Center pop up in "The L Word."
Nonprofit issues . . . but not nonprofits
But mostly what we learn about nonprofits in popular culture -- and not just in mainstream culture -- is wrong twice over. First, while the issues that nonprofits . . .