While we might view retirement as an easy process of handing off the reins and rushing for the grandkids, warmer weather or a more flexible schedule, most nonprofit ED/CEO retirements are more complex.
The Charitable Advisors’ team serve as guides and supports to board and staff leaders in navigating these complex transitions. The Charitable Advisors team is currently working with a dozen area nonprofits that are in some stage of leadership transition. From succession planning to active searches, to preparing for the hand-off to a new ED/CEO. In aggregate these organizations have budgets of more than $50 million, 150 board members and over 1,000 staff.
Ten of these transitions are planned retirements of leaders who have led from 10 years to 30+ years. Since we are spending even more time in this space than usual, our front-line perspectives are top of mind.
I will offer four key observations, below, and also reference a great resource at this article’s end, written by our friend Tim Wolfred, originally from Noblesville, who built his career assisting nonprofits in San Francisco and across the country and has since retired.
. Most organizations approaching the retirement of a leader are feeling anxious, but not all for the same reasons. Many organizations are anxious about the impact that the departure of their long-term leaders will have on donations, operations or key relationships. Many are also anxious that long-term leaders have stopped taking on new projects and initiating change and growth. So, anxiety can come from fear of change or the recognition that the organization is no longer changing to remain relevant. It is critical that the board and staff leadership of organizations are regularly setting and pursuing goals and exploring new approaches to maximizing their impact.
Hesitation to commit
: Even after a leader has shared the desire to retire, it is often difficult for leaders to set a date and begin preparing their staff and board teams for the transition. It is not healthy for an organization to have a leader with a moving retirement date. The retirement decision can be hard and is a conversation that should be made with the board leadership. We see leaders who are still working to define what the next step will look like for them. We also see leaders who love the people and the sector they work in. Sometimes, the board will need to sit down and help nail down a date, so that the organization can make plans and move forward.
: Depending on your timeline, your ED/CEO and organization will have different priorities for preparation. If you are 6-9 months out (a fall 2020 or yearend retirement) you want to focus on forming your search committee, defining your needs in the next leader, supporting staff and board, and prioritizing what will get done by the current leader versus deferred to next the leader. If you are looking at a date in 20201 or beyond, you have time to focus on organizational direction/priority, senior staff structure and development, and strengthening board leadership for the upcoming transition.
Communication gets weird:
In many transitions, there is something bizarre that happens to either board or staff leaders who have previously been a great team. Either the board leaders take too much control and shut out the ED/CEO or the ED/CEO overreacts when the board steps up to take the lead and the appropriate responsibility for the leadership transition. Board and staff leaders need to increase their communications and interactions through the transition to overcome these tendencies to misunderstand each other.
Let us know how we can help with your upcoming executive search or succession planning.
Bryan Orander, President