With the help of new leaders, organizations rise above the challenges. Engaging donors and transforming them into leaders; reaching out to the community to identify new leaders; cultivating thriving clients and asking them to mentor current clients. A healthy organization is always developing new leaders and growing.
Organizations depend on many leaders to transform. Indeed an organization’s strength is grounded in the partnership between board and staff leadership. Being an executive director is demanding; being a new executive director exhausting. A dedicated board works with the executive director to raise resources and build the vision. In other words, a working board is the force behind a successful executive director.
As an organization matures, its capacity grows allowing it to reach the next development stage. Building the capacity to make that transformation is rarely a one person job. Often all leaders are needed to propel the organization forward. What are these specific stages and what are the challenges associated with each stage?
One of the first is an organization transitioning from all volunteer leadership to its first paid staff. The title of this first staff person is rarely significant. This first staff person signals an expanded intensity and capacity to raise resources and focus on the mission. Adding resources also signals new expenses from salary to administrative. Even if this person begins in a part time capacity, their work is rarely part time and creates the opportunity to boost the organization faster than the efforts of just an all volunteer board.
Similarly, an organization’s strength is boosted as it transforms from the founder to the next leader. Organizations are naturally an extension of their leaders particularly in the initial stages. Expanding an organization’s leadership increases the number of leaders developing the organization building a distinct organization character. Because nonprofits are owned by the community, leadership transition is a signal of strength and devotion to the people served.
As an organization grows, it faces additional challenges. Some are structural and require more resources to solve: larger budget deficits; implementing a new direction; redesigning a core program; loss of a main funder. The larger the decision, the more important it is for all leaders to be involved in creating and implementing the solution. If leadership ignores these challenges, they may become ingrained and more difficult to tackle. As these challenges loom, some leaders leave. Those that remain look to new leaders to develop solutions. How does leadership resist procrastination and propel the organization forward? We will explore these life cycles and questions in future posts.