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WHY ARE NONPROFITS FAILING?

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 27, 2019

BRYCE ON MANAGEMENT

– Because we are not dedicated “for the good of the order.”

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Shortly after I wrote a recent article regarding the problems my home owners association was experiencing, I received several notes regarding the problems in other nonprofit groups in my area. This includes fraternal, political, religious, club sports and other home owner groups. I know many of them as I have actively participated in them over the years, but today they all seem to be struggling to keep their heads above water. It appears most, if not all, are in a self-destruct mode, which caused me to wonder why.

Let’s put our cards on the table; the biggest problem with most nonprofits is they are run by nice people, who mean well, but haven’t a clue as to what they are doing. Many of these offices come with a fancy title, but offer little in terms of insight for performing the work. Very few provide training in how to run a nonprofit effectively. There are some state courses describing pertinent rules and regulations to be observed, but none to my knowledge in terms of how to actually lead and manage. Consequently, nonprofits flounder due to ineffective leadership, causing meetings to become chaotic, financial reports to be prepared with errors, and the attitude of the general membership suffers, causing a decline, all because it is well known management is incompetent. Even worse, stories of embezzlement and gross negligence have become common.

People who serve on the Board of Directors for nonprofits should only do so “for the good of the order,” meaning it has more to do with the overall group and less about the individual. In the early days of our country, the Congress consisted of representatives from farms and other businesses who took turns serving, and at the end of their term, were anxious to return home and tend to their farm or business. There was no thought of lifetime service as there is today. They came, they performed the nation’s business “for the good of the order,” and returned home. This simply is not so anymore.

Today we have people who serve only to fuel their ego or career. There are those who take on a position to give themselves visibility to promote their products and/or services. Of course, the membership has no interest in this, yet the individual persists in his/her agenda. Then there are others who look to add a feather in their cap which will look good on a resume. In Freemasonry, we call this “chasing aprons,” meaning they are actively pursuing fancy Masonic aprons and titles. Most of these people never accomplished much in life and thrive on the adulation associated with such recognition. I have always been of the opinion that such people should be given their apron, then get them out of the way so they do not impede progress.

Such conduct results in what today is called an “Ineptocracy,” an incompetent ruling government where the least capable are elected to positions of authority. Quite often, this is done not because the person has exhibited any special talent, but rather there is nobody willing to serve or, perhaps worse, “it’s his/her turn” to preside. Not surprising, people quite often rise above their level of competency (aka, “The Peter Principle”). This does a disservice to both the organization and the person as well. When a person has risen above their level of competency, it will become obvious to others and will likely affect morale.

Working “for the good of the order,” means you believe in the virtues of the group, that it serves a useful purpose, and that you possess something to help the group, be it a specific talent or you are willing to work in any capacity. This is an important point. If you are unwilling to get your hands dirty, you should not be serving on a Board of Directors. It is like the old saying, “talk is cheap.” The effort of ALL members of the board are required in order to be successful. It is one thing to offer advice, quite another to see it through to completion.

There is one other cause for failure, that people believe management is not “cool.” Translation: a person lacks the discipline, organization, and structure to effectively lead people and hold them accountable. This normally results in either one person doing all the work so others are not burdened, but more likely, everything falls through the cracks and chaos ensues.

Whoever leads a nonprofit, must set the proper tone from the beginning, including the “5-W’s and H,” meaning “Who” is assigned to “What” work, “When” and “Where” it must be performed and “Why.” As to “How,” there may be standard protocols, tools and techniques to be followed, but it may be time to upgrade them. This should be followed by a prioritized list of objectives for the nonprofit to pursue in the operating year.

This brings up an important point, I am a strong proponent of “Managing from the Bottom-Up,” meaning assign responsibility, train accordingly, and get out of their way. Unless there are specific time constraints requiring urgency, it is not necessary to micromanage everything. Most nonprofits are volunteer organizations, and as such, people typically want to go about their jobs without Attila the Hun breathing down their necks.

“Managing from the bottom-up” also includes the formation and empowerment of committees to perform specific functions, such as reviewing finances, planning social affairs, membership and programming, property maintenance, or special projects. By building legitimate committees, you are cultivating people to succeed to the Board over time. This is why they must be allowed to speak and think for themselves.

As I have said repetitively over the years, running a nonprofit organization doesn’t require rocket science. Actually, in most cases, it is quite simple. You need simple and responsible management; someone who knows the governing docs, Robert’s Rules of Order, and knows how to write an agenda and use a gavel. It is not necessary for the leader to have all the answers, but how to formulate the answers with the rest of the board.

One last responsibility the leader must master is to “do yourself out of a job.” Your tenure is typically brief, such as a year or two. Before you leave though, it is essential you have taught the Board to carry on without you. This is actually an on-going process beginning on the first day of your tenure. Take plenty of notes, perhaps a log of your activities, but also create or update checklists, job descriptions, governing docs (e.g., bylaws), and technical “how to” procedures.

The chaos within nonprofit groups these days has gotten worse because the leaders have either forgotten the basics of management or were never trained to begin with, or maybe worse, they’re in it for the wrong reasons, such as accolades. It is like they have come down with a bad case of “The Stupids.” All of this is so unnecessary. We must always remember, we are there to serve for “the good of the order,” and no other reason.

Maybe I should give a class “for the good of the order.” Let me know if you are interested.

Keep the Faith!

P.S. – Don’t forget my new book, “Tim’s Senior Moments” now available in Printed and eBook form.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

8 Responses to “WHY ARE NONPROFITS FAILING?”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    A D.T. of Mexico wrote…

    “Your blog “Why Nonprofits are Failing” was spot-on!

    Your offer to teach a class “for the good of The Order” should be seriously considered.

    I (like you) have spent a fair amount of time leading non-profits (auto clubs, Scout units, church groups, Masonic bodies), and the pitfalls all seem the same although the cast of characters and setting may vary. While I try to not make the same mistake twice, there are times of forced errors as well as getting a sense of deja vu where I’ve been in a particular predicament before and may have not identified the warning signs in advance.

    Perhaps a short series of videos on YouTube would be a suitable medium. There is certainly value in the instruction if you decided to go into a more formal route as well.

    Great insight, as always – I hope you are doing well – we’re rolling into a very peculiar time in news and politics, so there is likely no shortage of subject matter for your excellent blog!”

    Like

  2. Tim Bryce said

    A P.M. of Ozona, Florida wrote…

    “I like your article, particularly when you wrote about the importance of working yourself out of a job as a leader from day 1. SO TRUE!!!”

    Like

  3. Tim Bryce said

    An H.N. of East Lake, Florida wrote…

    “Loved your latest article on nonprofits! You hit all the key areas where nonprofits may have problems. I was interested once in sitting on our homeowner’s association but decided not to. I din’t think I had enough knowledge or experience. Glad I never did but respect those who serve.”

    Tim’s reply:

    Sitting on any board is not a problem, as long as you know what you are doing and the leader isn’t a bone head. In fact, it can be a lot of fun.

    Like

  4. Tim Bryce said

    An M.B. of Clearwater, Florida wrote…

    “There you go again Non profit fraternal .org Leadership issues Right as always.”

    Like

  5. People still have to show up and do work on the committees… it’s just the times, we have to work more for less money now and people are very tired or don’t have time for stuff like our grand parents did when one income was enough for a family.

    Like

  6. Tim Bryce said

    An L.W. of Seminole, Florida wrote…

    “Good article.

    Yes, I would like to read your viewpoint on “for the good of the order.”

    As Mayor I can relate to that phrase, been on numerous non-profit boards over the years.”

    Like

  7. Tim Bryce said

    Your non-profits article that mentioned Robert’s Rules appeared in the news articles on my parliamentary procedure site (http://www.jimslaughter.com/). (By way of background, I’m a Certified Professional Parliamentarian, Professional Registered Parliamentarian, and past President of the American College of Parliamentary Lawyers.) In the event they may be of use for future articles, I wanted to share information on my two books on Robert’s Rules of Order.

    The books have a different purpose and different audiences (and the links that follow will take you to reviews of the books).

    The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Parliamentary Procedure Fast-Track is a quick go-to guide and provides details on the most used motions, appropriate informal procedures for smaller boards, and general advice for shortening meetings.

    Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules, Fourth Edition is a user’s guide to the new 716 page edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th Edition) and uses a question-and-answer format to cover the most misused and asked-about provisions, including those that apply to larger membership meetings. Notes and Comments received the 2013 Phifer Award from the National Communication Association.

    Both books are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, traditional and online bookstores, as well as electronically for the Kindle, Nook and iPad.

    There are also many free charts and articles on Robert’s and meeting procedure at my Website, http://www.jimslaughter.com. All of the information on the Website is free, so feel free to use or share.

    James H. Slaughter, Attorney
    Black, Slaughter & Black, PA
    North Carolina

    Like

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