Monday, November 21, 2005

Managing the Nonprofit Organization (Part Four)

1. People decisions

Drucker provides some useful hiring advice. Now, I've never had the final say over whether someone was to be hired or not, however, I have had the chance to initiate a review of candidates and offer my selections. This advice would have been useful then, and it would be useful to anyone who's responsible for hiring, whether for their team or for their own operation. He says people focus too much on a candidate's weaknesses. Says rather, you should hire for their strengths. Slogan of the handicapped association "don't hire a person based on what they can't do, but on what they can."

Says there's not much of a correlation between what a person is capable of at twenty-three and what they do when they're fifty. Harvard kids might burn out and someone less educated or impressive might burn low and hit their stride later in their career.

How to develop people? Uses the example of a pastor he knows who works with young people (of course this applies to anyone, and is a great thing for volunteers). The pastor says he provides people with four things: 1) a mentor 2) a teacher to develop skills; 3) a judge to evaluate progress; and 4) an encourager to cheer him/her on. The pastor takes the role of the cheerleader and has other people fill the other roles.

This thought is interesting: an organization either helps people grow or it stunts them. In my experience, that is true, but it wouldn't have been intuitive to anyone on the outside watching my situation. My introduction to the nonprofit world was a medium-sided professional association with adequate resources and that ran a tight ship in terms of operations and leveraging resources. Yet, I found myself stunted. Even though I loved the volunteers I worked with, after about a year, I maxed out the amount of growth I was allowed to have. Moving on to my next employer, they are on much less stable ground financially, politically, and otherwise. Yet, cheered on by a completely supportive boss, the sky has been the limit in terms of the contribution I am able to make; and I am needed. That makes me feel good about what I do and makes me much more confident for future career decisions I may make.

An observation I saw that rang true with the dysfunctional sister organization I'm always talking about was this one: "to allow non-performers to stay on means letting down the organization and the cause." As I mentioned in my part three post, the poisonous culture stems from two or three people and is systematically ignored because of loyalty to long-time employees. To me, since resources for this cause are scarce and people in our community are in such need of help, it borders on immoral to let people stay on the rolls and not contribute. People in small organizations have to be better, faster and smarter than people in large, more corporate-based environments.

Additionally, I had a thought regarding an employee evaluation practice that I would like to see. The manager would actually not do it as an afterthought, but rather would do a preview, tell the employee what his/her concerns were and have some open communication. Then, the manager could ask the employee to come up with a workplan with milestones. As the milestones got met, the employee could get bonuses. Now, the for-profit world does this kind of thing all the time I'm sure. However, all the nonprofits I'm familiar with are loathe to do anything approaching merit-based raises. I had my evaluation recently and I received the maximum, 4%. Now, there is nothing wrong with a 4% raise per se, however, you have to realize that I have done so much heavy lifting this year that my muscles are sore (metaphorically, you understand). My contributions have been noticed, yet there is no mechanism to reward people for it. And obviously, with nonprofits mostly paying substantially less than for-profits, these raise percentages are important or you'll never grow out of eating Mac and Cheese. Begging for Change brings up this point.

2. Key relationships

This part concerns the role of the board versus the role of the staff. It's very timely for me to be reading this what with my recent board meeting. The board members actually discussed the Carver model and I could tell that there was some familiarity with it. However it was incompletely understood. I think what happens is that people expect x or y approach to be the magic bullet and in reality, there's a lot of slogging through mundane work that has to be done to move forward. It's like strategic planning. I have found strategic plans to be wonderful "rulers" for my day-to-day work as a staff person. And the board of the organization I worked for had a good plan that we all used.

I had a discussion with a board member during a break and I told him that Carver is still very much informing the way boards do business and that without it, board and staff are confused on their roles and end up stepping on each others' toes (which is bad). He said yes that's true but you have to have a staff you can trust. (The organization has some history wherein an executive director used the board and almost destroyed the organization). I didn't know what to say to that given their history, which involves a negative experience with an executive director.

Here's what Drucker has to say about the board's job, and I believe it's very much informed by Carver. "To be effective, a nonprofit organization needs to have a strong board, but a board that does a board's work. The board not only helps think through an organization's mission, it is the guardian of that mission, and makes sure the organization lives up to its basic commitment. The board has the job of making sure the nonprofit has competent management--and the right management. The board's role is to appraise the performance of the organization. And, in a crisis the board members may have to be the firefighters." He goes on to talk about the board's fundraising responsibility. This is less true, I think, in a professional group, but remains very important in social service groups. And people don't talk about it enough, I think.

Also, "A board that understands its real obligations and sets goals for its own performance won't meddle. But if you leave the board's role open and undefined, you'll get one that interferes with details and yet doesn't do its own job."

"In my experience, the CEO is the conscience of the board. That may explain why the strong, effective boards I've seen are almost all boards where members come on through a nominating process. I very rarely have seen a truly strong board in co-ops, for instance, where boards are elected by the membership. There the chairperson has no say about who sits on a board, nor has the CEO. Then you get boards that may represent this or that segment of the membership, but they don't represent the organization, at least in my experience. Problems are likely to arise in these boards, such as the troublemakers who abuse the board to create a political platform for themselves or just to hear themselves talk." This reminds me of a great article I found in CAI's publication, which gives a profile of different kinds of troublemakers on the boards of different organizations.

3. From volunteers to unpaid staff: interview with Father Leo Bartel

I started to skim this part, but I soon found the interviewee really knew his stuff and had some great ideas. Basically, it comes down to really, really good communication.

Fr Bartel had great ideas and what I liked was that he was very optimistic about his volunteers. He's saying that people deliver when you have high expectations of them. This is something I wholeheartedly agree with and if you can make the time to help people see the vision they will step up.

4. The effective board: interview with Dr. David Hubbard

Ditto what I said about number three, but this one had me hooked too. The seminary where Hubbard works has a board system where the board members are evaluated at the end of their terms and then the decision is made whether they re-up or not. How's that for quality assurance? I can imagine that system is awesome but it sure would be hard to have start up.

He uses a side-by-side org chart with board, faculty and staff all lateral to one another. This is because these are all "centers of power." This is a good way of dealing with the complicated stakeholder situation that most nonprofits face.

Hubbard uses a staff model where he has a staffer whose job it is to help him keep the board on the same page. I recently saw on ASAE's job board a position called "Executive Services Manager," that I thought at the time seemed like a great position to have around. This interview is a good resource to have around for anyone managing a board.

The board member has four roles

1) governor
2) sponsor
3) ambassador
4) consultant

5. Summary: action implications

People require clear, straightforward assignments.

By Peter Drucker
ISBN # 0887306012