Expand Capacity the Secret to Transition Success

The title of nonprofit organization CEO often stands for Chief Everything Officer. These leaders are often responsible for programmatic and administrative functions as well as advocacy and building awareness of the organization’s mission. Developing a partnership between the board and CEO is essential for success. This is particularly true for new leaders.

The CEO job description is often more than what exists on paper. After all in this world of increased need and limited resources, the CEO, through no fault of her own, often takes on more and more responsibilities to make ends meet. Three common examples: if a foundation funder has a three years on one year off policy, the state takes longer to reimburse the agency for contracted services, or a member of the organization’s management team takes a family leave. In this era of constant change, the CEO often asks more and more from herself.

An indication of an experienced leader’s success is strong relationships with partners and supporters: knowing who to call and when.  Other essential skills include how to read the financials (which often contain slightly different language in each organization), and how to balance the many demands of the position. These skills come as the leader becomes more familiar with the organization and her position.

When a new leader has the opportunity to focus on the critical elements of the role and building strong relationships with vital partners, there is an increased chance of transition success. Thankfully, there is a small list of items board members can do to create an environment that cultivates the new leader.

The first is clean up the board itself.  Board leaders should honestly ask themselves four vital questions: Are the majority of board members coming to board meetings? Are members involved in board committees? Are they financially supporting the organization?  Is the board recruitment, retention, and transition process strong? Strengthening these board functions before welcoming a new leader increases the organization’s resources.

Second, the organization should not take on anything new or host any large scale events immediately following the transition. These events drain staff and board resources at a critical time. If a new leader is walking into the key event planning time, it is up to the board to step up and take a leadership role in the planning process. Use the event to thank the transitioning leader and introduce the new leader to organization supporters and partners.

Most importantly, board members hiring a new leader have a responsibility to support them. Before beginning the hiring process, each board member should assess their own and fellow board member’s support and willingness to develop a partnership with the new leader. Once board members assess their own, they reach out to staff to help develop a supportive environment and an all hands on deck mentality. Those that are not able to support the transition decision or new leader should be thanked for their work and transitioned before the new leader arrives.

Cultivating a new leader also includes creating a financial cushion.  A board that can increase fundraising efforts directly before the transition creates a healthier organization garnering the best leader for the position and increasing their likelihood of success. We will discuss this essential board role in the next post.


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