I quit

A few days ago, an Executive Director friend of mine from Indiana emailed me a link to an article in Philanthropy Journal titled “Exodus of Executive Directors Expected“. I encourage everyone to read this article in full because it is deeply disturbing. It is also very telling about the state of the non-profit sector.

According to a survey cited in the article, 67-percent of respondents said they plan on resigning their executive director position in the next five years. While there are many reasons cited, I found it most interesting that many of the reasons deal with the board of directors. I suspect much of this originates from conflicts such as:

  • board members not engaging enough in fundraising and resource development
  • board volunteers having unrealistic expectations of staff
  • disagreements over how to address economy related issues (e.g. can we cut our way out of this budget hole versus let’s roll up our sleeves and do some fundraising)

We can go on and on with possible examples, but let’s stop here because all of this really isn’t the issue. There are two bigger problems

  1. Only 17-percent of organizations who participated in the survey have written succession plans.
  2. Fundraising is ALL about relationships and when human capital starts leaving your organization it can impact the relationships your organization has with volunteers and donors.

So, there are a few options I suggest you start considering:

  • Be proactive and ask your organization’s HR Committee (or set-up an ad hoc committee) to start working on written succession plan. Here is a link to some great resources published by The Foundation Center.
  • Roll up your sleeves and start doing the hard work associated with engaging and reinvigorating your board. I blogged about this a few weeks ago. Click here if you want to re-read the post I titled “Really? An Exhausted Board?”
  • Ask different board members and fundraising volunteers to engage in stewardship of your existing big donors. When your most important donors have multiple relationships with board and staff, they are less likely to be upset when their one and only connection to your organization quits.

While it is almost impossible to prepare for someone’s resignation, there are things you can do to get your organization in the best possible position to deal with it when it arrives. And keep your fingers crossed that it doesn’t come in the form of a YouTube video like this one “The BEST EVER way to quit a job!! HOAX“.

Do you sense frustration out there among non-profit staff? Do you agree with the Philanthropy Journal article? Do you think there are ways to avoid the exodus or best prepare for a scenario like this? Please use the comment box below and share your thoughts. We can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC


  1. Nice job, Erik! I absolutely agree with the Journal. I was one of those Executive Directors that, when faced with an incredibly difficult budget year and a leadership vacuum on my Board of Directors, had to make the difficult decision to leave an organization that I have spent 12+ years of my life entrenched in. Ours was more of a staff capacity vs. Board fundraising dilemma. Nonetheless, we made deep, penetrating budget cuts and still had Board volunteers that outright refused to ask for money. When we reached the point at which we (the Board leadership and I) had lost all synergy, it was time for me to step down. I wrestled with feeling as though I had abandoned my staff and the families that we served, but ultimately pull from the old adage “God, grant me the wisdom to change the things I can and the wisdom to recognize those things that I cannot…” The tension was unhealthy (literally) and my family deserved better than a wife/mother that was completely burned-out from the uphill battle.

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