Abolish the nonprofit board? What do you think?
Last Thursday I was part of one of the most provocative discussions I’ve been in for awhile.
The CEO of a year old start up public charity — I’d say he fit the description of a “social entrepreneur” — was describing his leadership and management framework to a group of top level corporate types. He was confident, brash, passionate about his mission, and business oriented. He referenced Jim Collins and Good to Great in his approach.
The business people loved him. Me too… until…
He explained how in starting this new organization he had learned many lessons from the previous organization he had founded (which had enjoyed both great program outcomes and growth).
- Like the need for a clear business model
- The importance of having great people in their jobs
- A commitment to the mission, including not settling for too small an impact on a big problem
All good, and then..
- Getting rid of unproductive time sinks, including the Board of Directors.
Whoa! Like throwing a firebomb into the room.
Hearing the collective gasp, he went on to explain. At the first organization he had founded, he spent 30% or more of his time managing the Board of Directors. A board that was complacent with the number of kids they were serving, which was barely a drop in the bucket of need.
So, this time around, he wasn’t going to waste precious time when there was important work to be done. Though he really couldn’t really abolish the Board (state law does require a board of directors for a nonprofit, usually with more than one trustee), he could make it small and manageable. Which he did by composing the board with two good friends and himself.
I noted that this is all perfectly legal. And frequently done. Think of the typical founder board, usually a family and friend affair.
Needless to say, lots of questions followed:
Don’t you need the Board to assist in fundraising? No, the business model is built on federal funds.
Who decides Executive Compensation? How do you ensure that you don’t get in trouble with the IRS over excess compensation? We do an regular market survey of salaries, I get paid under the top, and I recuse myself from the discussion and vote.
How do you build community ownership? Get contrary advice? We have an advisory board of community leaders and others.
Why didn’t you just create a for profit organization? Because this is the corporate structure I’m most familiar with and to leave open the possibility for philanthropy, even though the business model doesn’t currently depend on it.
What happens if something happens to you? That is a question, but my guess is that the board will find someone to replace me. Plus, as we grow, there will be staff under me who could step into my shoes.
I had lot of thoughts about this. But before I share them, I’d love to hear from you.
What do you think? A good idea or not?