Freeh Report on Penn State Points to Need for Board Training

August 7, 2012; Source: Times Leader

There are many lessons to be learned when a nonprofit organization’s misdeeds are reported in the media. The Freeh Report (which NPQ has covered extensively here and here), detailing Penn State’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations involving Jerry Sandusky, is fertile ground for such lessons to be learned. In an editorial for the Times Leader, Patricia Mogan of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, finds a few lessons for nonprofit boards in the Freeh Report.

By its own count, Penn State is subject to 350 policies. Mogan says the board’s question to staff should be, “What is our system of policy oversight?” Mogan’s opinion is that, “A nonprofit should have a system and/or committee structure in place to ensure the review [of policies] takes place on a periodic basis.” This is a good idea, but it doesn’t necessarily help the board assure that a particular federal mandate is being followed through proper establishment and application of supporting policies.

Another good question for board members to ask, Mogan writes, is, “What do we need to know for risk-management purposes?” Mogan points out that Penn State trustees were not actively engaged in asking good questions and demanding good answers from the president and other senior administrators. She also notes that the CEO/board relationship was skewed in favor of trustees deferring to administrators rather than having the administrators take their lead from the board.

This last concern leads to the issue of changing Penn State’s culture, the first—and arguably the toughest to implement—recommendation of the Freeh Report. Mogan implies that governing boards must take responsibility for identifying and cultivating an organization’s cultural values and beliefs—in this case, values and beliefs that serve the children and youth at Penn State.

In order for boards to step up to this assertive, collaborative leadership role, board members will need even more sustained training and development than the Freeh Report recommends be included in the board orientation process. Changing the culture of the organization first requires changing the culture of the governing board. Mogan is right in saying that boards need to “sit up and pay attention to where their focus needs to be.” That can happen once the board, staff, and other stakeholders understand what “pay attention” means in order to discover “where their focus needs to be,” but reaching that understanding requires an education process, not a simple admonishment. –Michael Wyland


Michael Wyland

Michael L. Wyland, CSL, has more than thirty years of experience in corporate and government public policy, management, and administration. An expert on nonprofit governance and public policy issues, he has been featured and quoted extensively in media including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, Washington Post, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and The Nonprofit Quarterly. He currently serves as an editorial advisory board member and contributor to The Nonprofit Quarterly, with more than 100 articles published since 2012. Michael is a partner in the consulting firm of Sumption & Wyland. Founded in 1990, the firm provides board governance consulting, public speaking and training, and executive coaching to nonprofit organizations. Sumption & Wyland has assisted more than 200 nonprofits with strategic planning services from pre-retreat research to staff-level implementation assistance and effectiveness monitoring. Speaking topics include board-CEO partnerships, nonprofit executive transition issues, and overviews of the nonprofit sector of the US economy. Michael was born in Washington, DC and raised in the Northern Virginia suburbs. Prior to co-founding Sumption & Wyland, Michael managed the computer operations for an independent oil & gas investor in Dallas, Texas and served as a staff assistant to a U.S. Representative. During his college years, he spent one summer working at the US Department of Labor and one summer working at the US Department of Justice. His past volunteer service includes various leadership positions at the local, state, and national level with the Young Republicans. He has been the secretary and president of a condominium homeowners association and the treasurer of a professional association serving computing professionals. He served as a Trustee and Vice President of Sertoma Foundation, and has been elected president of his local Sertoma club twice. In 2014, Michael was elected Chair of the South Dakota Commission for National and Community Service (Serve SD), on which he has served since its founding in 2011. He is currently working as a senior advisor to establish a national charity dedicated to the elimination of prejudice, expanding the scope and reach of the 120-year old Pi Lamba Phi fraternal organization. Michael's writing for NPQ often addresses healthcare policy and governance, scandals involving nonprofits, and the governance and policy implications of nonprofit stories in the news. He was widely quoted and cited for his work analyzing the governance issues related to the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State/Second Mile scandal in 2011. More recently, he has written more than 30 pieces for NPQ relating to the IRS scandal. In addition, he presented a paper at the national 2014 ARNOVA Conference about the IRS scandal and its implications for regulation of political activity by nonprofit organizations. Michael lives in Sioux Falls, SD with his wife, Margaret Sumption, and their dog. They have one adult son. In his leisure time, he likes to read histories and biographies, play golf, cook, and be a companion to his wife.

  • Tish Mogan

    Good commentary Michael. I have a concern that some fo the quotes you utilized were definitive judgments about Penn State’s board and I was very careful in the article to utilize words such as “seemingly” or “appreared.” We are not in the position of claiming that Penn State’s board or leadership acted a certain way.

    Thanks for picking up the article. About the education – that is what we do constantly here with the methodology, resources and suppport provided in the Standards for Excellence Program. We don’t believe admonishing gets folks anywhere – we always take a “what can we learn and hear are the supports to correct it” approach.

    Patricia (Tish) Mogan
    Standards for Excellence Officer
    Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations