Asking questions helps drive everything from program offerings and fundraising initiatives to the organization’s overall strategic mission. So, that begs the question, how can you ask better questions?
Most organizations can easily figure out if their board is getting a passing or a failing grade, but anyone who has experience in nonprofit leadership can tell you that there’s a big difference between a board getting a D and a board getting an A or B.
We have seen it time and again – high turnover in one role because the other doesn’t want to share power and work together as equals. At one end of the spectrum, you have nonprofits that rely solely on their superstar ED to drive the organization, while at the other end you have nonprofits that give their long-time Board the keys and tell the ED to take a back seat. However, true success can only come when a nonprofit has both a strong ED and Board and the two are working together effectively to get the organization down the road.
For some context, Dr. Frankl was a psychiatrist in Vienna when World War II began. He was already an established and admired professor and author. He was invited to migrate to the US at the beginning of the war but stayed behind rather than leave his aging parents to suffer alone under the Nazi occupation. He was sent to four different concentration camps over the following three years. There, he was stripped of everything the Nazis could take. He tried to protect his work, his family, and his identity as a doctor and an academic. They took all that they could on the surface. But they couldn’t control what was in Dr. Frankl’s heart, mind, and soul.
Well…yes and no. Yes, you should feel good about the hire, and you should take a pause, but not for too long because the next phase of the transition is only beginning. “What!? Only beginning?” you say. Yes, hiring the new ED is just the first step of the transition journey. The next important move for the Board is to ensure your new leader settles confidently into the role for a long tenure.
So, release that breath and let’s chat about this next phase.
The rationalizations for resisting actually doing succession planning range from, “Who am I to tell future leaders who to pick?” to “I should wait to do this until I am closer to leaving.” Often times it starts to sound more like a discussion about wills and death.
But, regardless of the response when the subject is broached, effective succession nonprofit planning is crucial for an organization to maintain its focus and purpose regardless of who is leading. Nonprofits accumulate valuable institutional knowledge and expertise over time. A well-executed succession plan helps create a transfer of knowledge from outgoing leaders to their successors, preventing the loss of critical information and experience needed to keep the organization serving its key audiences. For this reason, it is always a worthwhile endeavor for nonprofit leadership to plan for the future no matter what stage of their career they are in or what is going on within the organization!
What are some of the essential elements of fundraising that EDs should be familiar with to find success? Let’s shed light on the division of responsibilities within nonprofit organizations when it comes to development efforts:
This organization closed six months later.
In our sector, we are not rewarded for admitting our struggles. We are not rewarded for rapid cycle learning, failing forward, or innovation. We aren’t even rewarded for partnering. Instead, the sector is fueled by what I might call the 99% success rate fallacy that goes something like this – “Dear Funder, We have a unique approach compared to every other organization you might consider funding. What we are doing is nearly always working for nearly everyone we serve. Please give more.” In short, we are rewarded for presenting solid proposals that project that we are unique, have it all under control, and we are excelling on all fronts. We simply need more money.
After 30 years of leading and working in nonprofit organizations, I finally have the courage to say this: We are not all that unique, everything isn’t always under control, and we are rarely excelling on all fronts. Adequate funding is one essential piece, but that is not enough. We need to explore different strategies if we want to thrive organizationally, and more importantly, have greater impact collectively.
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