This is the second Sam Sector III case. If you check on a regular basis you can follow the escapades of Sam “the greatest and only nonprofit detective in the world” as he answers the questions facing today’s nonprofit leaders. Each installment will take only a couple of minutes to read, will provide you with some information, and will end in a bit of a cliff-hanger so that you will return in about 7-10 days to find out what happened. This of course is fun for me, and a different way to get information out to all of you who have an interest. Please let me know if you like it, hate it, or wish that Sam would find a real job that pays.
The Case of the Shaky Board
A Sam Sector III Saga
As told by Emil W. Angelica
Guido’s restaurant was empty as Johnnie sat at the table across from Sam and laid out what would become Sam’s next case. Rosa, Guido’s daughter and waitress, brought over another order of cannoli and more espresso, while Guido went to work with the mop. “Did you like tonight’s eel stew, Sam?”
“You bet, Guido — you make the best!!” Sam smiled, crunching on his second cannoli as Johnnie frowned impatiently and mouthed, “How can you eat eel?”
“Anyway, like I said, Social Service, Inc., over in St. Paul, wants you to meet with them tomorrow at noon and see if you can help them out. They have had several board resignations over some problems the board has had working with the staff. And this just when they need more skilled people on the board, not less. They can’t seem to get anybody new to join. The Executive Director… you know Les, don’t you? He has stated that the board needs to help the organization move to the next level, ‘cause he can’t do it alone. He and the Board Chair are not communicating well, and the organization needs to send the right messages to its key constituents, who are getting all worked up.” Johnnie paused to catch his breath and take a sip of espresso.
“So,” Sam summarized as he brushed the crumbs off his pants and noticed that some of the eel stew had dropped on his tie and was starting to crust over, “it sounds like the main problems facing the organization and its board fall into three main categories:
- Conflict and communication
- Roles and responsibilities
- Board recruitment
We’ve all seen this before, haven’t we, Johnnie.”
“Yeah, Sam - but it is tough when it all happens at once! I wouldn’t be surprised if Les quits — he was just hired to help them grow to the next stage because he has good management skills. What do you think, is there anything that you can do — I know that you are the world’s greatest nonprofit detective, but I don’t see…?” Guido was looking like he was done for the night and would appreciate Sam and Johnnie leaving.
“OK, Johnnie, let’s let Guido lock up and get home before midnight. I think that I will learn more tomorrow when I meet with the Board leadership and Les. Any idea how the Twins did tonight? I’ve been so busy that I haven’t heard.” Sam always brought up sports with Johnnie, because he knew that Johnnie could care less, and he enjoyed flaunting his knowledge over the young upstart from Northeast Minneapolis. He got the desired annoyed response. Rosa chimed in from across the room, “Baker twirled a sweet 4-hitter, and the M & M boys provided all the needed offense in a 3-zip win over the Bosox.” Sam gave her thumbs up, dropped a ten-spot tip on the table, put on his brown fedora and headed for home.
The next day around noon, Sam put on his newest suit, a brown tweed purchased at the end of the Carter administration, drove his 1960 Ford Falcon over the Mississippi into downtown St. Paul, and waltzed into the offices of Social Service, Inc. Les, the Director, ushered him into the large room that they used as a board room, and Sam was introduced to the board chair and two other board members.
The Board Chair, a St. Paul businessman named Greg, started things off with what felt like a jab. “I don’t know how you can help, but we have got to try something.” He was squinting at Les. “What does a private eye who specializes in nonprofits do, anyway?”
Sam smiled a crooked smile, “Oh, a little of this and a little of that, but mostly I listen and try to figure things out and put things together — ya know — help people out. So let’s talk about what you’re strugglin’ with — I only got a little info from Johnnie Reframe.”
“Well, we don’t have much money; how much do you charge for helping people out?” Les was pushing Sam right at the beginning, so Sam spun his brown fedora around on his index finger, to ease his own tension. “Let’s talk about the fee later. I’d like to understand what is going on first. Talk to me about what you’re going through — then I’ll tell you if I can help.” Sam hated this cat-and-mouse at the beginning of a case, so he spun his fedora faster, which caused it to launch across the table and hit Greg in his rather large midsection. After an embarrassing moment, Greg handed the slightly crushed hat to Sam and started his story.
“As you may know, we have been around for some 10 years working with teens in trouble in the school system. Most of these kids and their families are one step away from homeless and living below the poverty line — around twenty to twenty-five thousand a year. Real bad deal!” Greg looked down, and Sam could tell that he was truly concerned about the people that they served. “We contract with state and local government for our services, but with their tight budgets, they won’t cover our costs. So we have to find other sources of revenue in order to make ends meet.”
Sam took out his Parker fountain pen and made some notes in the spiral pad he kept in his inside jacket pocket. “So are you getting funding from foundations and corporations to fill in where the government support is falling short?”
“We’re trying to, but most of the board didn’t sign on to raise money. We just want to help the kids, but Les, here, keeps pushing us to get involved with raising money. Let me tell you this is not our cup of tea. Several long-time board members have quit the board over this.”
“So I hear.” Sam spoke to everyone at the table, who were simultaneously nodding in agreement with what Greg had to say. A young woman in black slacks, a blue oxford shirt and a red blazer raised her finger, “I have been on the board for six months now, and I am not sure what is expected of me, and what I should expect of staff. This confusion is keeping us from being successful; if we cannot get this figured out we will never be able to be accountable to each other.”
Just then, a young woman entered the room and handed Les a piece of paper — Les rolled his eyes to the sky. “This is what I have been afraid of, one of the funders has heard about the concerns of the Board and wants to have a meeting to discuss their financial commitment to us.” Everybody looked around the room and all eyes came to rest on Sam, who was unfolding a chart that he got out of his notebook.
If you have ideas that can help Sam as he works on his current case, or if you have "cases" that you would like to see Sam take on, please email me.