CalCPA Not-for-Profit Organizations Conference 2020

The CalCPA Education Foundation’s 2020 Not-for-Profit Organizations Conference will be held virtually on May 20. I have the honor of presenting a bonus session on Enhanced Governance to start the Conference. Here is CalCPA’s description of the Conference:

CalCPA Education Foundation’s annual nonprofit conference brings together industry and public accounting experts to deliver timely updates surrounding this market. Engage with speakers who lead sessions covering topics ranging from new and developing tax issues to effective controls and private endowments. You’ll gain a renewed understanding about pertinent accounting, audit, legal, tax and regulatory updates relevant to this industry.

And my description of the Enhanced Governance session:

This session will focus on practical nonprofit governance in today’s environment, including the board’s three major roles: planning, protection, and oversight. Attendees will learn how directors meet their fiduciary duties acting in furtherance of their organization’s mission and core values, and how they may avoid liability and other risks that have landed some nonprofits on the front page. In addition, the session will identify events and movements currently shaping board governance and how some boards are adaptively responding to these challenging times.

Among some of the thoughts I plan to share:

  • Planning. Of course, the plan must be mission-focused (and that means ensuring consistency with how the mission or purpose of the corporation is described in its articles and bylaws). But it should also be consistent with the core values of the organization. The plan must also reasonably reflect adequate resources available to the organization. That’s a big question mark and challenge now and why boards may be particularly valuable in helping to engage in scenario planning. For most organizations, adaptability is a key now more than ever.
  • Generative thinking. In the book Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of the Nonprofit Boards, the authors identify three types of governance: fiduciary governance (which asks what’s wrong), strategic governance (which asks what’s the plan), and generative governance (which asks what’s the question). Boards should have discussions without the immediate goal of strategy creation about various ways of advancing the organization’s mission towards realizing its vision.
  • Challenges in the COVID-19 era. Results of a recent survey conducted by La Piana Consulting shows the harsh impact of the pandemic in just a couple of months and a relatively bleak outlook for the near future. 91% of nonprofits have had to curtail services or adapt how they provide them, 90% have lost revenues, respondents collectively laid off or furloughed 18% of their staff, 44% expect to make further staff reductions, and 55% expect to reduce services. And the due care required during such challenges demand greater attention of the board members. See Nonprofit Governance: Coronavirus and COVID-19. Among the concerns boards may need to be discussing: safety, financials, programs, employees, executives, facilities, and events. And in some cases: mergers, dissolution, and endowment funds.
  • Equity. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have been publicly embraced as values by many nonprofits. But the journey to becoming more equitable and inclusionary is a difficult one that requires resources. This does not excuse boards from ignoring DEI while adapting to new circumstances, assuming DEI is a core organizational value, but many will in attempting to make their organizations resilient (a loaded term).
  • Advocacy. In these difficult times, it’s particularly true that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. When nonprofits support and engage in advocacy, they get included in economic stimulus bills, they protect critical charitable assets (e.g., DotOrg registry), and they benefit and protect their missions and beneficiaries. Where resources are very limited, systems thinking and changing systems may be the most effective and efficient course versus mitigating harms caused by these systems. As Paul Batalden observed: “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” And advocacy is critical to changing systems.