Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Policy vs. Paper Clips

There's a lot of advice out there about governance structure.  Particularly when a board has always operated in a certain way, sorting through all the advice and finding the governance structure that fits your nonprofit can be difficult.  And it is more difficult when the board has acted as staff and now must transition to policy makers.  Dr. Eugene Fram sent me a copy of his book Policy vs. Paper Clips and I found it to be an interesting read.  One of the reasons it is actually a fun book to read is Dr. Fram tells the story of how to transition to a corporate model of governance through the fictional exchange of emails between friends.  Here are some of the things you can expect from the book:

From Dr. Fram...

Policy vs. Paper Clips is an unusual how-to book. It is a serious subject – improving nonprofit board governance while enhancing a management focus – but it is written in a highly user friendly way. Two old friends with ties to vastly different nonprofit organizations discuss via email what it takes to adopt the Corporate Model, an approach that can position your nonprofit to meet the demanding realities of the 21st century world.

Given today’s difficult times for nonprofits, hardly any can continue to operate as they have in the past. For most, it is no longer possible for a volunteer group of directors to be involved in day-to-day operations of the organization. The Corporate Model establishes a framework for separating policy development from operational activities. When customized appropriately to your own nonprofit, the Model promotes growth. This book shows you how to tap the creative energies of the board of directors to address critical issues about vision, direction, assessment of outcomes; how to adapt to new challenges and how to capture emerging opportunities – while turning over day-to-day operational matters to management.

The Corporate Model works best for nonprofits that have an annual budget of about $1 million or more and staffs of about 15 or more. However, anyone associated with a nonprofit group can benefit from reading this book. It provides an essential self-examination that can serve as a catalyst for becoming a more dynamic organization.

Your Board Members & Chief Executive Working Together Can More Effectively:

• Focus an organization on strategic issues over operational minutiae
• Encourage directors to bring their special expertise & cultural values to board discussions
• Understand the need for – and implement – rigorous assessment of operational outcomes
• Pinpoint management’s responsibility & clarify its responsibility
• Establish a system of organizational checks & balances


• Allow for more management flexibility to develop a more entrepreneurial culture
• Increase focus on productivity at the expense of bureaucratic processes
• Improve the CEO’s fund raising capacity to drive development productivity
• Obtain greater efficiencies through lower costs
• Keep board involvement high when developing policies & strategies
• Create a partnership between board and staff that builds trust

Your Board Members Can More Effectively:
•  Provide an appropriate mission-focused board structure for growth
• Operate effectively with only three standing board committees
• Make major board structural changes with minimum disruption
• Evaluate the chief executive fairly despite only having imperfect metrics

• Reduce or increase board size
• Develop effective audit committee & fraud protection procedures

You can contact Dr. Fram at


  1. Thanks Bunnie! I was thinking about purchasing this book but now I know I need to buy. Thanks for the succinct review with actionable tips.

  2. Sounds like very user-friendly advice for growing nonprofits. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. It's definitely a difficult transition to make. Thanks for these tips!

  4. Thanks for the review, Bunnie. I look forward to a "how-to" book that shares email exchanges among friends. Doesn't that sound like a comforting way to navigate change - with trusted friends.

  5. I am deeply involved in studying the Carver Policy Governance Model. While I am anxious to read the Policy vs. Paper Clips book, I'm curious about your take on the difference in the approaches between these two models. Thanks much, Phil

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