The Case of the Graybeard’s Replacement

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.


← Read the first installment

Sam spread the chart out on the table and focused everyone’s attention on his view of organizational life stages. “As I see it, you are in the process of moving between the first and second life stage. You’ve got all the signs of needing to take care of business. You need to focus on some of the internal issues that you have identified. It will be important to put energy into this now in order to make certain that these internal issues do not start to affect your operation and your image.”

Sam eyed the group and slipped off his suit jacket, which he noticed was somewhat frayed at the sleeve and had an old coffee stain just under the left breast pocket. Sam made a mental note to switch to tea when wearing this suit – if spilled, tea would blend better with the light brown tweed.

“You need to clarify board and staff roles and responsibilities, you will want to develop the internal systems needed to keep the confidence of the funders, and you will want to assess your current board to better understand your leadership needs.

“OK, if that is true, what should we do to bring about the necessary change?” Les was pushing again.

Sam flipped over a page in his notebook and began to document his ideas. “I propose a three-step process that should help you begin to address the concerns that you have outlined and will move you through the second phase:

  1. Look at the Policy Governance Model developed by John Carver as a way to understand board and staff roles and responsibilities. You can look at one of his books or check out his website to get a better idea of his ideas.
  2. Think through your board structure in a way that reinforces roles and responsibilities and at the same time will make your board meetings more meaningful and effective.
  3. Develop a board recruitment plan to strengthen your board and provide you with the additional skills you need to be successful.”

Sam sat back in his chair and surveyed the group. Most were leaning forward to get a closer look at the chart that he had unfolded. Sam noticed that Les was leaning back, perhaps preoccupied with the news that he had received about the funder’s concerns. Sam jotted down a cryptic few words in his notebook to check this out later with his buddy Harry at the Dew Drop Inn.

Greg was the first to speak. “How soon can you get started? We need action fast. Les here says that you have been successful with others, so I guess we have no choice.” It wasn’t the best start to a case, but then Sam had experienced worse.

“I’ll send you my standard contract, Les, and I can start right away; you are lucky that I just wrapped up a big case, so I have some time.” Sam lied through his teeth, but an image of being in high demand was all part of his marketing plan. He had actually been looking forward to doing some fall fishing with his life-long buddy Joey, but that would have to wait until he made enough to cover his office rent for the month, not to mention his one-bedroom at the Hotel Twin Cities. “I want to check some things out first, talk to a few people, interview some board members – you know, background myself. Then I want to meet with the board and present some of my ideas. When is your next board meeting?”

“How does next Thursday work for you, Sam? That gives you four days to prepare.” Greg sat back in his chair and eyed the aging detective over his horn-rimmed glasses. Sam opened his pocket paper diary, and squinted at the blank pages. “I think that I can squeeze you in, but I better get started.” With that Sam stood up, popped on his jacket and, pivoting on his heel, strode out of the room. As he was leaving the office he noticed that five staff were huddled together whispering. At the sight of Sam, they all walked purposefully in different directions, as if on important missions.

Sam huffed and puffed the five flights of stairs up to his Hennepin Avenue office. Stella was going through the mail as if it were a poker hand and she was trying to fill an inside straight. He knew she was looking for a check from one of his slow-paying clients. “Hi Sam, we are 0 for 5 today. Kinda like Go-go was last night – he better get back on track if the Twins are gonna win the division. Oh, this was just slipped under the door. You better take a look-see.” Sam opened the envelope with his name scrawled on it. Inside was a cryptic message:

“Ask the board about staff problems, but don’t forget to talk to us if you want to get the real skinny. We need help!”

Sam smiled his crooked smile. This case was getting interesting.

Read the third installment →

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.