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FOOLS (NEED NOT) RUSH IN… by Gerard F. Hurley

That is, if nonprofit organization leaders resist pursuing objectives until they’re fully ready to engage in such.

Typically, the visceral drive of volunteer boards to “do something” over- whelms their lack of perspective, especially when engaging the world without a Governance Culture Plan,  as detailed in “It’s Your Gavel,” to be released in March, 2019.

“Gavel” features, for the first time, my unique decision- making discipline concept FOUNDATION FIRST GOVERNANCE™ (FFG), the most comprehensive Governance Culture Plan available. In it are ranked those authority and policy “building blocks” essential to a nonprofit organization’s effectiveness, as one could observe the sequential construction of a commercial high-rise. Failure to incorporate just one of the “building blocks,” depending on which, is certain to undermine one’s prospects for success.  Failure to employ or recognize two or more building blocks will likely mean continued dysfunction.  Visualize a pyramid, which graphic, coincidentally, frames Chapter Two.

“Gavel” provides nonprofit volunteer directors the most comprehensive framework of leadership concepts, guidelines, checklists and model documents on which they should rely before  engaging externally, as one holds dear a pre-flight checklist. Virtually, all FFG leadership building block components are in play at sophisticated, successful nonprofit groups.

The architecture of effective nonprofit organization governance, therefore, can be straightforward, once those building block fundamentals are embedded, then to further implant, in priority, still important blocks to complete one’s organizational superstructure.  Therein lie a major source of problems for nonprofit organizations.  Few elected leaders and paid staff (if any) maintain faith with their group’s consensus “mission and goals,” supposedly the overarching drivers of their project mosaic to follow.  In my observation, after four decades, plus, working in and serving the nonprofit field, too often attempts at setting goals, if such even exist, end up a collection of non-quantified or qualified euphemisms of little value. How, then, is one to set the tone, the direction, the targets, or know whether one has achieved objectives?  .

“Gavel” is a bounty of ready- made assessment steps for groups seeking to affirm or enhance their governance, along with on-point, ready to be adapted model policies and procedures, etc., all of which address the typical breadth of leaders’ concerns.  Included, for example, are suggested “board-chief elected-chief staff executive” authority and relationship scenarios on which to build, as well as proposed roles and responsibilities, often misunderstood, another common source of frustration and disorientation. Ill-informed chief-elected leaders often depend on inspiration versus annual plans, and are adrift as to model deportment.

To that end, in “Gavel,” are the policy- backed action expectations of the chief elected under the classic duties of Loyalty and Care, as well as examples of often seen illicit behaviors.

As nonprofit consultant Jack Schlegel observed some years ago

“ strategic and operating plans transform the chief elected from monarch to steward.”

It’s that simple.  It’s the doing that’s hard.

Chapter One is  a primer on typical nonprofit structures, elected director and board characteristics, good and bad, including their “can’t help themselves” personalities.

Everything in “Gavel” reflects Chapter Two and its motherlode, Foundation First Governance™. FFG describes, in everyday language, the 30+ “Foundation” and “Modus Operandi” building blocks essential to an effective Governance Culture Plan.  In Level One of that pyramid, for example, are specified “(1)articles and bylaws, (2) consensus mission, goals, and objectives, (3) values, and (4) devoted volunteer leaders.” Without those in place and agreed upon, at base, one could face “running in place,” forever.

Playing off the comprehensive FFG dictates featured in Chapter Two comes Chapter Three, enumerating board/director (and staff) classic roles and responsibilities, and the governance elements on which groups should rely.  Here is suggested “who is to do what,” exactly, featuring 40 leadership scenarios and a 180 “situation/ action” coding format enabling leaders to post “who chairs, initiates, must be consulted, decides, fulfills,” and more, as needed.  This flexible Model Authorities Matrix, under 15 subject categories, provides a short-hand format for laying out, in detail, how the group intends to govern.  Such a comprehensive “assignment” document would be a perfect base with which to on-board new directors, and remind the veterans, as well.

Too many volunteer directors consider their deliberations a wide open, zero-sum game when likely they’re operating under a variety of policy and traditional strictures long forgotten.  Chapter Five demonstrates, with a suggested Model Board Policies text, under fifteen subject categories, how the decisions of previous boards, presumably still in force, can be compressed into a counselling source ready to take its rightful place among governing documents.

Sophisticated boards, generally, hold themselves to a rigorous “time out” review of plans and assumptions before leaping into the abyss, so to speak. Chapter Six illustrates, with its challenging interrogatories in hand, how leaders can be confident that from macro as well as micro vantage points each FFG element pertinent to a coming major decision or investment is understood, in operation, and on-point.  Some national nonprofits, by glossing over the fundamental questions proposed here, have suffered six-figure losses and reputational damage. 

Perennially easy to dismiss or avoid is the critical board (and staff) annual retreat, possibly the only leadership opportunity for in-depth consideration of issues.  This Gathering of Eagles, as outlined in Chapter Seven, thoughtfully produced, should be memorable and productive.  Boards which default to seek directors’ profound observations as the last item on the year’s end agenda are doomed to repeat the foibles of the past.

“Gavel” wraps up, in Chapter Eight, with a first glance exercise wherein a board’s leaders can score their Governance Culture components against the practices of other nonprofits.  The review could be revealing.

The challenge moving forward, then, is for nonprofit groups with a sense of themselves and the expectations of their members or stakeholders, to be focused and committed to refining their Governance Culture, turning their backs on ad hoc or mercurial modes. One need not settle for the latter.

Governance Culture components “memorialized” in various documents must be treated with the respect they deserve, always mindful that “íf it isn’t in writing, it doesn’t exist.” Such are to be conveyed to the next brace of leaders, and so on, thereby maintaining the beat for generations to come.

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