Non-profit executive directors are not zombies or vampires

undeadI know that this may sound silly, but I think it needs to be said for the record. Non-profit executive directors (e.g. CEOs) are not the undead. They do not live forever. They will leave your agency some day. And every board should be preparing for that eventuality.
Let me assure you that you are not “jinxing” yourself by being proactive.
Here are a few questions you should be able to answer well in advance of the day when you executive director submits their resignation:

  • Will you bravely move forward into the future with an interim executive director or will your board form a management team?
  • How do you intend on building a large, qualified applicant pool?
  • How will you screen those resumes?
  • How will the board determine which skill sets and competencies are necessary for the next executive director to possess in order to take the agency from Point B to C?
  • How will you develop interview questions based on teasing out these competencies and skill sets?
  • Who is responsible for recruiting the search committee? Who should be asked to sit on this committee?
  • Have internal candidates been getting groomed? If so, how will those candidates be treated?

Many non-profit organizations start to address some of these issues through the creation of a succession plan.
Click here for additional resources pertaining to success planning provided by the National Council of Nonprofits.
Does your non-profit operate with a succession plan? If so, what is in it? Looking at the aforementioned list of bullet points, is your agency able to answer these questions today? If not, what steps can you take to start addressing these issues in the next six months?
Please scroll down and use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Will you know when it is your time to leave and how to do so gracefully?

the end1Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. For the last few years, we’ve looked at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applied his organizational development messages to the non-profit community. For the foreseeable future, John is taking a break from blogging and our Friday organizational development blog series will morph into something else. Stay tuned!

In this week’s post titled “Your Stage Now,” John announces to the world that he needs a break from blogging. He simply tells us that he is going on hiatus, and he isn’t sure if and when he will start-up again. In the meantime, he invites everyone to use his blog platform to share their organizational development stories.

After shaking off the suddenness of this announcement, John’s post reminded me of a time when I was an executive director working for a local non-profit organization. During that time, it wasn’t uncommon for the following three questions to visit me like the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future:

  1. Will this board meeting be my last? Is this the meeting when my board will ask me to leave?
  2. Will I know when it is time for me to go? Will I be able to leave or will I be asked to leave?
  3. When it is my time to go, will I be able to fade from the stage with grace?

Yes, those six years of my life were filled with anxiety and stress. No, I was not fired. In fact, I like to think I did a nice job. I did leave on my terms, and I think I left gracefully.

John’s post this morning brought all of those memories flooding back mostly because he exited the stage with class, dignity and grace. His post also reminded me of how many non-profit professionals (and even board volunteers) I’ve seen throughout the years who are completely and utterly unprepared for this moment. It is as if they never contemplated the possibility and it crept up on them like a stealthy cat.

the end2Here are just a few examples of what those situations looked like:

  • The board terminating their executive director due to performance issues.
  • The non-profit professional deciding it was time for a change, which usually meant they were leaving for greener pastures (or so they thought).
  • The executive director resigning because a BIG issue was about to bite them in the butt, and they would rather pull the pin on the grenade instead of being shot by the board.
  • The fundraising professional being squeezed out as a result of a new boss being hired with new priorities in the middle of a re-org and shake-up.
  • A non-profit professional suddenly realizing that it is time to retire and move into their golden years.
  • A board president quitting suddenly because their child is no longer involved in the agency.

Upon leaving the stage, I’ve seen lots of good and lots of bad. I’m sure you have, too, Sometimes people just run away and hide. Other times, I’ve seen the big hook used to pull that person off of the stage. The following are just a few things that I’ve seen and heard that make me cringe:

  • I’ve heard executive directors and fundraising professionals assuring donors, volunteers and board members that everything will be OK after they leave. (This feels pretentious and always leaves me wondering if they have doubts that everything is going to actually be OK.)
  • I’ve heard bad mouthing and airing of grievances. (This looks cowardly and spiteful.)
  • I’ve seen people simply take their hands off of the wheel in their final days and weeks on the job. (This looks reckless.)

You’re probably thinking that in these situations those were “bad people“. The reality is that I’ve seen both poor professionals and iconic professionals do things like this. I’ve also seen volunteers who I revere accidentally step into some of these pitfalls.

the end3The definition of the word “grace” according to a Google search is: “simple elegance or refinement of movement“.

The previous bullet points are not good examples of “grace“. However, when I think about myself, I know that I am not a naturally graceful person, which is probably why I obsessed about “the end” and felt the need to think through and plan my exit. (Yes, I recognize that I have control issues and I am working with my counselor to address this. LOL!)

While I encourage you to not obsess (like I did) over what the end will look like, I think it is healthy to contemplate it from time-to-time. And when the end does finally come, I think it is responsible to put a thoughtful plan in place to ensure a graceful exit with a smooth transition.

The following are just a variety of different links and resource that I think you might find useful:

Do you have any tips or tricks for how to exit the big stage with grace? Do you have a story about a fellow co-worker or board volunteer who left in a less than perfect way? If so, what could they have done differently to make it a better departure? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

On a personal note, I want to thank John Greco for providing the DonorDreams blog readers with countless “Organizational Development Fridays” over the years. I wish him a restful break and hope he comes back to the blogosphere when he is ready because the world is better place when he is blogging and sharing his perspective on how to grow our organizational capacity and manage change.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Are you a successful non-profit professional?

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

I just had lunch with dear friend a few days ago. She is smart. She is talented. She runs an awesome non-profit organization that is growing by leaps and bounds. However, during lunch our conversation turned to lots of questions and doubts:

  • Is she still the right leader for this organization at this point in time?
  • Has the organization outgrown what she has to offer?
  • Will she know when it is the right time to leave?
  • Is there someone she should be grooming to whom she could pass the baton at the appropriate time?

This discussion was surprising to me because she is so obviously successful, but it isn’t apparent to her. This got me thinking of an awesome blog post by John Greco titled “Success“. Since today is OD Friday at DonorDreams blog, I encourage you to click over and read John’s post. After digesting his thoughts, please circle back here and re-read the list of questions that my friend posed over lunch. After accomplishing all of that, scroll down and post your thoughts in the comment box below.

What practices and tools do you and your non-profit organization utilize to let you and your donors know that you’re successful? We can all learn from each other. So, please take a moment to share!

Here’s to your health.

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Founding Fathers have the answer for today’s non-profit leadership deficit

It has been said more than once on this blog as well as in many other places on the internet that non-profit organizations are challenged from an executive leadership perspective. Compensation packages are poor. Boards make bad choices. Evaluation is the exception rather than the rule. Succession planning is more talk than anything else. Let’s face it . . . today’s non-profit executive leadership picture is less than rosy.

However, tomorrow’s executive leadership picture is likely going to get much worse according to The Bridgespan Group who recently carried out a study on executive leadership issues focused on non-profits with revenues greater than $250,000. Click here to read a copy of the executive summary.

The bottom line according to this study is:

  • The non-profit sector will need 80,000 new leaders in 2016;
  • Non-profit agencies lack the size and resources to develop its leaders from within;
  • The non-profit sector lacks robust management-education and executive-search capabilities.

By the way, Happy Fourth of July 2012. I decided writing about this subject today because it feels especially appropriate.

I’ve always looked at what the Founding Fathers did in Philadelphia in 1776 as an exercise in organizational development and leadership, and I’m convinced that non-profits can find lots of answers to their challenges just by studying history.

I can mentally picture George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin sitting around after a tough day at Independence Hall working through issues dealing with how to sustain the country in the long-term.

If I were to guess, the idea of having both a federal government and 13 independent sovereign states bound together into one governance system had a lot to do with checks and balances and not trusting big government. However, I also suspect there was some thought given to how separate governance models at the state level would create a training ground and leadership engine for the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government.

Even if this thought never crossed their minds, it still turns out to be genius!

As you go about celebrating Independence Day 2012, I encourage you to chew on the following questions:

  • Does your non-profit agency have a written succession plan? Is it real orjust something on paper?
  • What does your training and professional development program and budget look like?
  • What leadership opportunities are you providing staff members to help them gain the necessary experience to step-up and lead in the future?
  • Are there places (e.g. structures, committees, groups) inside your organization where people can “cut their teeth” and learn how to be a leader and develop skills?
  • If not, what does the constitutional convention look like for your agency to make those adjustments? Who is sitting around the table?
  • Much like the states interact with one another, are there other non-profits in your community who you can collaborate with around issues of succession and leadership?

Here’s to your health! And have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847