This newsletter brings Holiday Greetings and apologies to loyal readers who have been wondering why we haven't published since this summer. Kate Sphar and I have been busy with strategic planning engagements, Board development activities, and helping organizations steer through change and transition. And I have been working with the Forbes Funds Succession Planning Cohort and have made presentations on Executive Transition and Nonprofit Leadership Development at professional conferences and a Jossey Bass webinar. This newsletter provides some of our learnings and "found" resources from these activities. Look for a fuller newsletter in January devoted to the topics of Nonprofit Leadership and Financial Health.


We would like to congratulate fellow Dewey & Kaye alumni, Michelle Heck and Todd Owens. They have taken Nonprofit Talent (formerly Jobswatch) and the Nonprofit Executive Search Practice independent in the form of a new company Nonprofit Talent. We wish them well in this exciting new venture.


Kate and I wish YOU a calm and bright holiday season. We hope to see you in 2014.




Leslie Bonner

Succession Planning and Life Reimagined

The planned or unplanned departure of the top executive is a time of change and transition for a nonprofit, its staff, and the Board. There are many great resources that describe the basic "how-tos" for creating an emergency succession plan, how to launch a search, and what the Board can do to prepare. But the transition that gets far less attention, is the personal transition for the departing Executive.


Whether they are retiring, embarking on the next chapter of their career, or seeking a new challenge, the Executives I have been working with admit to feeling nervous, anxious, hopeful, excited, fearful, worried, and/or energized. Often all at the same time. My co-facilitator in the successio n cohort, Gay Fogarty, and I were excited to discover a great resource for the departing executives in a recently published book, Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities. This book from AARP has a wonderful companion website, and both are useful for anyone at any age contemplating a major life change.


See below for more information on change and transition as it applies to the staff, boards, and stakeholders of organizations experiencing the transition of a long-standing or beloved leader.

Change and Transition

Change is in the air. Do you feel it? Does it excite you? Make you worried or weary? Endings and New Beginnings come with a range of emotions. As a consultant, change is a background theme in almost everything I do. Currently I am using the change and transition tools described below with several clients; all who, for different reasons, are experiencing the same stress of change.

  • An organization facing the departure of a long-term and well liked CEO, has a board and staff who are worried about adapting to a new leadership style at the top.
  • A client who acquired 2 new programs/ facilities, that we are guiding through an integration, has multiple staff groups experiencing significant change in processes, programs and responsibilities.
  • A Board that has for years allowed the organization to coast along with a founding executive making all the decisions, now has decided to flex its stewardship muscles and the change is rippling through the organization. 
  • A nonprofit starting an ambitious strategic plan, with a new action-oriented executive at the helm demanding a radical and necessary reinvention, describes their change as going from 20 miles an hour to 100 in what seems to be 20 seconds.

What we know about change is that every individual (and organization) experiences it differently, at their own pace, moving through a range of emotions. A large number of organizations and individuals are unsuccessful at change. We also know that change is easier on the person or people who make the decisions to change versus those (victims) who have the change forced upon them with no say. Letting people help to create the change and make the decisions increases success. Finally, we know that individuals (and organizations) that have multiple changes going on at the same time, feel greater stress and negativity than those experiencing only one or two changes. 


There are several change gurus that frequently serve as organizational resources such as John Kotter and  Chip Heath. But my go-to source has always been William Bridges who described TRANSITION as a 3 phase model: Ending, The Neutral Zone, and New Beginnings. Each phase of transition is accompanied by a range of typical emotions. The Neutral Zone in Bridges model is an important phase, not to be skipped. But it is also often the most painful because of its ambiguity and we try to rush through it.. Marilyn Ferguson said this about the Neutral Zone, "It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear......It's like being between trapezes. It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to" Organizations, like the ones in my intro, have to learn how to deal with and make the best use of this time in between the ending of the old way and the beginning of the new.


Bridges, who passed away last year, wrote  Managing Transition, as a guide for organizations and leaders to steer their staff through these 3 phases. It is among my top 5 most recommended books. 

Strategic Planning Tools

Kate and I have collectively facilitated an estimated 300 plans and assessments in our careers as nonprofit consultants. We have worked on 10+ in the last year, and each time we do one, we learn something new or reinforce our beliefs and processes. In September we presented on this topic for the Foundation Center and invite you to our presentation here . Honestly, and not-so humbly, without our commentary it loses something, so we welcome the opportunity to talk with your organization about your planned planning and how we can help. We are also available to speak to your professional organization about our lessons learned and a planning process for those organizations who are thinking of a DIY approach.


One of the other things we encounter during planning is that everyone is confused about the difference between strategies, goals, priorities, and tactics. Some organizations have strong feelings about what should be called what. After several rounds of discussion on the terms "goals" versus "strategies," we recently suggested to an organization that we didn't care as much about what they called the boxes on their plan as what they put inside the boxes. We recently found this infographic that does a great job of straightening this all out:  What is Strategic Planning?



Contact Us
Kate Sphar | | 412-443-0411

 Leslie Bonner | | 412-427-7033