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 sixth installment

Sam huffed his way up the five flights to his office and did his usual classic movie explosion into the office — “Stellllllaaaa, Stellllaaaa!! I coulda been a contendddaaaaa!! So what is so important that I have to risk my life running up the stairs?”

Stella shook her head, stifled her laughter with her hand and announced that Greg, the board chair for Social Services Inc., just called. “You have a command performance before the board tomorrow evening at 7:30. You better prepare your final report for them right away, Sam — then we can get paid! Oh, by the way, somebody named Joe from Washington, DC wants to talk to you later today. You can call him after you prepare your presentation for the board; here’s the number.” Stella slipped a folded piece of paper into Sam’s jacket pocket.

“Okay, okay, I can take a hint — I will head down to the Dew Drop Inn and prepare my presentation to the board. Then, and only then, will I call, this Joe from our nation’s capitol.”

Sam strolled into the Dew Drop Inn and sidled up to the bar. “Hey, Harry — I’m hungry. Whatcha’ got that’s good?”

“You’re in luck Sam. I just opened a jar of pickled pigs’ knuckles, I have some nice sauerkraut, and you can wash it all down with some Oktoberfest on tap.”

Sam circled his hand with his index finger in the air, indicating that he would have it all, then opened his notebook and spread out some index cards for outlining his presentation. He wrote down notes and referred to some important handouts that he would make available during the presentation. Sam started by drawing a triangle with words at each angle — Trust, Accountability, Hope. He then opened the life stages chart and drew an arrow showing the organization moving from the first stage to the second stage. Next, Sam wrote down the change formula that Gert learned during her time at Harvard from Michael Beer:

C = D x V x 1st < cost

These three broad concepts would serve as the framework for his presentation.

Sam then labeled one card “Data Collection” and identified the results of his interviews and the survey. He wrote the words — Board and Staff Roles and Responsibilities, Board Chair and Executive Director Relationship, and Board Recruitment. Sam nibbled on a knuckle and forked a mouthful of kraut. He pictured himself making a case for the policy governance model developed by John Carver as a way to clarify the roles. As Sam quaffed some Oktoberfest, he wrote down the relationship points that he would make:

The Board Chair manages the Board, while the Director manages all the assets of the organization: staff, facility, equipment, funding, volunteers, etc. In order for each to do his/her jobs effectively the two need to work well together, cooperatively. Sam grabbed a piece of rye bread and reflected on what he had learned in his interviews. Too often the Chair views his/her role to be the supervisor of the director. The reality is that the chair has no more power over the staff than any other board member. The board members only have authority when they meet as a board. It is when they meet as a board that they can vote and make decisions. This is what he would need to emphasize.

Sam thought about his friend and fellow consultant Jessica’s board recruitment forms and realized that he might need to have a special meeting with Social Services Inc.’s board governance committee to give them her forms and explain how to use each one. This would be the critical board committee to lead a board when an organization is moving from stage one to stage two.

As Sam finished his beer and called to Harry for a second order of everything, he thought about how to talk about the fundraising role of the board. He divided an index card in half. At the top of one side he wrote Board Member; at the top of the other he wrote Volunteer. Under Board Member, he listed Giving directly, Getting from others, and Special Board events. At the bottom, he wrote Set revenue goal. He knew that many board members understood these concepts but may not have determined that they were responsible for implementing them. Under Volunteer, Sam wrote Open doors, Assist staff, and Use network. These were all activities that staff might ask the board members to do to help them raise money. As always, Sam would make the distinction between the two roles that board members play. One is as a trustee of the organization; the other is as a volunteer advancing the work of the staff. These are two distinctly different roles that should not be confused.

As the food arrived, Sam noticed that Harry, the owner and a retired nonprofit executive director, had thrown in a few pickled mushrooms for garnish. “Thanks, Harry — another good meal. I gotta make some points about building reporting infrastructure in a nonprofit. Any thoughts?”

Harry wiped the bar with his towel. “Yeah Sam, a couple. I think that everyone knows how important it is to have systems in place in order to move to the next level as an organization; however, what some people don’t think about is that the systems need to respond to reporting requirements. Too often the systems are purchased off the shelf or, worse yet, are built over time and do not meet the reporting requirements. Today’s requirements focus on outcomes — in other words, what did you do to make a difference in the world? Too often the systems count activities, so you can describe the programs’ and the staff’s actions but not what was accomplished. The message that I would give is this — make certain that your internal evaluation and your external reporting needs are met with your systems.”

“Good thoughts, Harry!” Sam commented while he captured Harry’s ideas on an index card. “I think that you have given me what I need in order to finish my presentation tomorrow. This should cover the food and drink.” Sam laid down three sawbucks and headed out the door. He was confident that his presentation the next day would help the board and staff build a good working relationship and provide them with the tools they needed.

As he turned the corner, Sam saw a rare phone booth with a public phone actually in service. He retrieved the paper with the phone number that Stella had given him. After depositing several quarters and dialing the number, Sam spoke to the voice at the other end. “Hi, this is Sam Sector, is this Joe?” After a moment of silence, a deep bass voice whispered, “Yes. Sam, I need you, and you owe me big time. Remember the Democratic Convention in ’68 — I saved your bacon.” Sam burped pickle juice as he remembered that difficult time. Joe continued, “I got responsibility for the expenditure of some big bucks, and I need your advice on how the nonprofit sector could respond during these tough times. I need your thoughts, and I need ‘em now.” Sam frowned. He did recognize the voice, after all these years, and he did not like the way he was being pressured into his next big case — The Case of Coping During Difficult Financial Times — but he also knew he owed it to the sector to help out.

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.