Should a CEO sit on the board of his/her own directors' companies?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Are You Prepared for When Disaster Strikes?

This past week news has centered on little other than the devastating impact of the earthquake in Haiti. The challenges of responding to this crisis are immense. More than one newscaster has claimed the task impossible, despite the outpouring of help from around the world, the hundreds of millions of dollars in donations and the fact that Haiti has over 10,000 NGOs of its own to mobilize – the highest number of NGOs per capita of anywhere in the world. True, this is an extraordinary situation. But, it should serve as a lesson to all organizations in our sector. We must be prepared for the unexpected, whatever form that might take. After all, experience teaches us it is not a question of “if” something untoward will occur, but “when.”

No area in the world is immune to natural disasters. Therefore, your organization is susceptible. Is your data protected and retrievable even if your computers are smashed, looted or swept out to sea? Do you have a staffing plan where people know who is to report, under what circumstances, and where to report if your physical space can’t be reached, is uninhabitable or otherwise compromised? Do you have a means of checking up on staff who don’t immediately report to be sure that they are okay? What about a plan for providing service when your normal operations are disrupted? How will you access critical supplies? How will you determine which programs have priority if you cannot, for some reason, provide them all? Do you have a process in place for communicating with your clients if basic telecommunications are disrupted? How will you triage their needs? Do you have agreements with other organizations to work together or even take over for you in times like these?

Then there are man-made disasters, which are even more likely to occur. Pick up a newspaper almost any day and there is a story about someone in the public eye who said something politically incorrect when out with “friends” or in front of a live microphone that was assumed to be off. It can happen to your executive administrator or a visible member of your board. What about a trusted staff member or volunteer who absconds with organizational funds? Or, a program that gets bad publicity? Perhaps someone associated with your organization is accused of sexual harassment. Or, your property is burglarized or significantly vandalized. The possibilities are endless. Are you prepared to handle them quickly and intelligently? Have you identified an organizational spokesperson who will serve as the (only) voice of the organization in these circumstances? Do you have a policy for whether you will be proactive or reactive in dealing with the press? A script by which you control the spin? What about procedures for staying in the public’s good graces?

While it is never possible to cover all contingencies, having risk and crisis management plans in place that deal with the most likely will serve you in good stead. Not only will you be able to quickly respond to the situations you’ve previously identified, you will have a plan from which to start – one you can adapt – when faced with the unexpected.

Few people like thinking about worst case scenarios – it’s why so many die without wills, despite the knowledge that we all will die. However, your organization made a commitment to the community when it opened its doors. You cannot afford to be ill prepared to meet that commitment. As such, you need plans that are updated as new situations reveal missing elements. Bring key stakeholders in today and start them brainstorming. Tomorrow may be too late.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Giving to help Haiti

The devastation in Haiti is agonizing to see. Most of us want to contribute in some way to help. Please be sure that your donation goes to a legitimate charitable organization and gets to Haiti to help those who need it most. If you are unsure which organizations are worthy of your support, take a look at this article "How to Spot Dubious Haiti Charity Pleas" on

Thursday, January 7, 2010

We, and many of our fellow consultants, are often asked to help people create new nonprofit organizations. One of our esteemed colleagues, Don Greisman, has written a splendid article on why in most cases this is NOT a good idea, and suggests alternatives. If you or someone you know is toying with this idea, reading this thoughtful article is a must.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Secret Ballot or a Show of Hands

Q: We have an election coming up and a number of us would like to know the most common practice of nonprofit boards: To elect board members by public vote or secret ballot?

A: Given your question, it appears your vote is not proforma. Good. I give extra points to any organization that questions how to move forward and with whom. I trust it means that you have sufficient depth of leadership to require a serious vote and that you are looking for the most effective means of achieving that.

Both voting procedures are commonly used. I am unaware of one being used significantly more than the other. The approach a specific organization takes is often spelled out in that organization’s bylaws.

If your bylaws do not specify the technique to use, consider the advantages and disadvantages of each. The public vote is faster and everyone sees the will of the people. However, the results of a voice vote may be determined on the basis of the group that projects the loudest. And, if the first candidate gets a particularly hearty response, those intending to vote for the second candidate may feel the majority has spoken and opt not to vote rather than be associated with what they perceive will be the losing side. Even a show of hands can be inaccurate unless several people are counting and all arrive at the same number. However, a secret ballot has its own problems. It takes longer. And, if the nominations were contentious, there may be a question about the validity of the vote and/or the subsequent count. Of course, this can be mitigated if ballots are numbered and accounted for, and there are representatives from “both sides” counting the ballots.

What is far more important than the type of vote is that you have a thoughtfully-considered list of criteria for board service. That makes it easier for your governance or nominating committee to vet the nominees and assure the voting body of the capability of each person up for election to the board. As long as each candidate meets the defined criteria, the format you ultimately choose shouldn’t matter. Everyone can feel comfortable that any of the people on the ballot will represent the community well if elected.