What do I do now?!?
As a non-profit board leader, managing a leadership transition is one of the most important responsibilities you have.
There are a number of different options when your executive director leaves.
The choice you ultimately make will depend on your budget and how long an absence you need to accommodate. If you have a longer-term need (greater than three months), it can be a great investment to engage an outside resource to steward your organization through this transitionary period.
Two of the best options available to you are:
Utilizing a consultant is a fairly well-known option. They can assess your organization and help you decide if you should promote from within, conduct an outside search, or consider a significant change to your business model such as sunsetting or merging with another organization.
A lesser known option in the non-profit world is to bring on an Interim Executive Director. The right Interim Executive Director has one primary focus – do whatever is in the best interest of the organization. At this juncture of a non-profit’s existence, a variety of circumstances may exist. There is an interim for every situation.
The key to success is to match the Interim ED to the state of the organization.
The right Interim ED has generally had previous experience as an executive director. They understand the non-profit world and how non-profit organizations run. They have deep experience in board governance. They are skilled at change management and can navigate potentially turbulent waters.
The right Interim ED has no preconceived agenda. They are not in the running to be the new executive director. Their focus is on getting the organization from here to there. Interim ED’s who choose to apply for the role while serving as the Interim are unlikely to remain truly neutral as they navigate their candidacy for the regular full-time role.
The right Interim ED will focus their attention on the work the organization most needs. To serve the organization well is to be able to “speak truth to power.” If the board, as an example, has plans that aren’t viable, the right Interim ED is positioned to make recommendations and propose alternate solutions. They may also surface issues the board isn’t aware of and help navigate them. They are committed to seeing the organization through the transition.
During times of transition, there are some areas the board should consider taking a more active role in during this transitionary period or hold-off until a new ED comes on board. These activities may include fundraising strategy, individual donor cultivation, and the creation of a long-term (3-5 year) strategy.
An Interim ED should drive a short-term strategy that helps the organization clarify where they are going in the next 12 to 18 months. They must set the course and maintain it during the transition. Having a clear strategy is also important in making decisions about the hiring of the long-term leader for the organization. Running the normal day-to-day operations of the organization is an essential part of an Interim ED’s job.
While an Interim ED is in place, the board must get on with the business of hiring a permanent ED. The typical timeline for an Interim ED assignment ranges between 4 months on the short end to as long as 12-18 months. An executive search conducted by the board or with the assistance of an outside firm can take 3 to 6 months. The benefit of the right Interim ED for the incoming ED is the stewardship and stabilization of the organization. When the new ED steps in they can do so with the knowledge that the organization has been cared for in ways that have improved its condition.
Not only have the normal operations been attended to, but the staff have also been able to focus on mission-related work. Often under the guidance of an Interim leadership capacities, as well as the organization’s capacities, have grown. The result of retaining the right Interim ED is a non-profit organization that has a healthier, mission-driven ecosystem.
For information on how Valtas matches Interim ED’s to non-profit organizations click here.
About the Author
Christine has served as an Interim Executive for 15 organizations over the past ten years. She’s led the development of a wide variety of strategic and business plans and has also led executive hiring efforts for clients across the country.
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