Posts by Mark Van Benschoten, CPA, Director of Not-for-Profit Services:
- Too many directors lack a deep understanding of the organization
- Most lack formal governance structure and processes
- Many directors are not engaged, do not understand their obligations
If you had to guess, how strong do you think your nonprofit organization’s policies are? If you’re unsure or have that gut feeling they’re not strong, you’re certainly not alone. After surveying more than 900 directors of nonprofit organizations, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, in collaboration with BoardSource and GuideStar, reported some concerning findings in their 2015 Survey on Board of Directors of Nonprofit Organizations.
You may know that it’s important to have good governance when it comes to ensuring the stability and strength of your organization. Without having the right procedures in place to help govern the board of directors and the institution as a whole, the entire organization risks collapse.
While securing sources of revenue and recruiting new members are critical elements of every nonprofit, the real backbone of your organization is your board’s governance. Without the proper structure in place to help shape and reinforce your vision, mission and objectives, your board will not have the tools needed to lead – making your funding and membership objectives less effective.
According to Stanford Graduate School’s survey:
“Over two thirds (69 percent) of nonprofit directors say their organization has faced one or more serious governance-related problems in the past 10 years. Forty percent say they have been unable to meet fundraising targets. Twenty-nine percent have experienced serious financial difficulty. A quarter (23 percent) have asked their executive director to leave or had to respond to unexpected resignation [and] sixteen percent say they have had extreme difficulty attracting qualified new board members.”
Furthermore, the study found that:
While the shortcomings underscored by this report highlight a widespread problem throughout the nonprofit industry, the solution may be as simple as writing (or reevaluating) and implementing a variety of key policies. Enacting proper policies throughout the organization will not only help rectify problems that stem from a weak system of governance, they will help solidify the connection between the directors and their organization while putting a solid structure in place for streamlining the nonprofit’s central objectives, such as fundraising, budgeting and lobbying. Policies can, and should, be in place to help manage the organization’s advisory council, board member orientation, ethics, confidentiality, donor relations, performance, and sponsorship activity – among many others.
Not sure what policies you should have in place? Take a look at this comprehensive Not-for-Profit Policy Checklist. Here are also a few examples of sample policies to give you greater insight into what you should be striving to accomplish.
By Mark Van Benschoten, CPA (Dublin office)
You’re busy. Your staff is busy. Everyone is busy. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of your organization. Meeting with prospective donors, educating groups on the mission of your organization, and managing volunteers. But let me ask you, when did you last spend time evaluating the effectiveness of your nonprofit organization? Has your donor base increased? Are you seeing an increase in volunteers and people who want to support your organization? Are you truly living out your organization’s mission and vision?
Evaluate Your Not-For-Profit’s Effectiveness
Can’t remember the last time you considered the effectiveness of your organization? Now is probably a good time. If after evaluating you discover that your organization has some areas for improvement, considering asking yourself the five questions below. Addressing these questions and areas may help you create a more effective nonprofit organization.
Are we communicating our organization’s accomplishments?
Many organizations make a lot of effort to communicate how much money they’ve raised, and how they use their funds. The focus seems to mostly be on the money and percentages. And while it’s important to communicate this information, don’t forget to talk about what your organization is actually doing. How are you carrying out the mission of your organization? What key accomplishments has your organization achieved? Place a greater emphasis on communicating your organization’s accomplishments.
Is our organization’s board of directors actively engaged in the organization?
When you conduct board meetings, do you sense that your board in engaged in the meeting? Are your board members asking questions and providing insight on how to strengthen the organization? Are they participating in and attending organization activities and fundraisers? If you can’t provide answers to these questions or the answer is “no,” then maybe you need to evaluate how you’re communicating and interacting with your board. A strong, engaged board can help drive the effectiveness of your organization.
Is our organization’s mission and vision statements clearly defined and communicated to our audiences?
If you were to survey your donor base, prospective donors, volunteers and others throughout the communities you serve, would you find that people understand your organization and its mission? Not sure what kind of responses you would get? One reason that your organization may not be as effective as it could be is because your audiences may not fully understand the mission and vision of your organization. Take a look at your mission and vision statements and see if you need to make some revisions.
Do we clearly and timely communicate to our board of directors?
This question really ties into whether or not you feel like you have an engaged board. One of the reasons you may not have an engaged board is because you’re not clearly and timely communicating with them. If there are important decisions that need to be made, make sure that you providing them with the necessary information to make the decision within a timely manner.
How strong are our organization’s internal controls?
Unfortunately, internal fraud is a real concern within nonprofit organizations. Few nonprofits have strong internal controls. As organizations grow, the internal controls need changing. Make sure the controls are operating at a level that will deter and detect fraud. Establish a code of conduct that will create a clear understanding of what is expected of all employees. Even if your organization only has a few employees, it is still possible to implement a system of checks and balances. These controls should help safeguard assets, produce accurate reports and improve administrative effectiveness.
Ohio Non-For-Profit Help
Effective nonprofit organizations are impacting the communities they serve. If you are questioning the effectiveness of your organization, contact Rea & Associates. Our Ohio non-for-profit team can help you evaluate your organization and where you can increase your efficiency and effectiveness.
Author: Mark Van Benschoten, CPA (Dublin office)
Looking for more nonprofit organization tips and best practices? Check these blog posts out:
Fraud Reporting Hotline Could Be the Answer to Your Problems
Picture this: You have an annual audit. You comply with the auditors’ requests, provide the necessary documentation and never end up with any findings. So you’re good. Your finances are safe, right? Wrong.
Some people think conducting an audit is like a trip to the doctor – it should catch any and all financial problems. But, just as a visit to the eye doctor won’t include a check for cavities, an audit isn’t designed to uncover all financial troubles. For example: fraud. In very rare instances, an auditor may catch an occurrence of fraud, but it’s not his job to uncover it. Read the rest of this entry “
Between the new Ohio casinos, Ohio Lottery drawings and instant games, legalized gambling is all over the place. Have you ever considered how this pastime could benefit your charitable organization?
Qualifying charitable organizations can benefit from properly structured bingo operations, but the requirements could prove to be a burden. As an alternative, qualifying charitable organizations can receive proceeds from instant bingo activities. Read the rest of this entry “
Not-for-profit organizations need strong active engaged boards for long term success. Success can be defined as continually achieving/reaching the potential of the organization. Success can also be defined as continued existence and continuing to providing services. All things change; economy, funding, services needed, staffing, technology – it is reasonable to expect and/or demand that boards also change. Read the rest of this entry “
Ten Tips to Help Your Organization Protect Its Investments
A nonprofit organization’s investments can be its lifeblood, allowing the group to maintain services or supplement its day-to-day income. Or investments can provide the insurance that an organization has long-term financial security. However your group uses investment income, it’s important to take steps to protect it. Read the rest of this entry “
In recent years, there’s been a lot of media coverage about corporate fraud. We hear about bankers embezzling millions or CEOs with hidden accounts. But, all fraud isn’t on such a large scale. Sometimes it’s a matter of a $25 check here and $50 in cash there. From a fraudster’s perspective, non-profits’ donations (especially small amounts) are often ripe for the picking. Read the rest of this entry “
If you are a not-for-profit organization with a fiscal year ending on or after Nov. 30, 2011, listen up – you will be required by the Ohio Attorney General to make online filing of charity registrations. Read the rest of this entry “
The Internal Revenue Service has issued a warning to booster clubs that conduct fundraisers that they may be subject to IRS scrutiny, including jeopardizing the groups’ 501(c(3) status. An IRS directive addresses the possible tax consequences for booster clubs that reduce the amount a participant is required to pay based on the amount of fundraising the individual has done. Read the rest of this entry “
The IRS recently announced that nearly 11,000 Ohio not-for-profit organizations lost their tax-exempt status. Why? They failed to file an annual informational return for three consecutive years. Read the rest of this entry “