Endings and Beginnings

Author: Regina Birdsell – President & CEO, Center for Nonprofit Management

Almost a year ago, I shared with our board that I thought it was time for new leadership at CNM given the vital role nonprofits play, and time for me to take on new challenges that did not involve running a nonprofit day to day. For years I’ve worked with dozens of boards facing planned and unplanned executive transitions, helping them navigate what is always, in spite of our best efforts, a confusing time for everyone involved.

Sometimes an ED announces they’ve taken another job, other times an executive tells the board they’ve set a specific date set for their departure. In either scenario, the organization then faces an important fork in their life cycle. Now that I am living it, as I advise others, here are some lessons I’ve learned …

1. Have a plan.

Break down the tasks, timing, and who is accountable.

2. Be ready for the unexpected.

When the process doesn’t go as planned, have a decision-making system in place.

3. It will be emotional and disorienting.

Keep stakeholders in the loop, appropriately, as you look ahead to the next chapter.

4. Onboarding takes time and energy.

The first year offers many opportunities to determine, together, what’s next but systems and people will resist change.

As a leader, it’s hard to let go of something you’ve spent a part of your life building, especially when the work we all do has an impact on so many lives. During our upcoming seminars on successful transition planning, we will explore best practices for board members and executives to use, including personal and professional aspects of navigating leadership succession effectively.

Some of CNM’s clients avoid the topic and just hope that maybe the ED will stay. Then they might call us looking for an interim executive to fill the role until they can hire a permanent leader, having run out the clock. Others just want to recycle the previous job description and move quickly to replace the leader as soon as possible. The smart ones use the time of transition as an opportunity to look ahead at what is happening in their community, and the organization, and use the process to define the experiences and skills necessary to be successful in the future.

Facing a transition in your organization?

Get prepared during CNM’s seminars on succession planning on November 8 or November 17.

About the Author

regina birdsell Endings and Beginnings

Known for leveraging public and private assets to achieve ambitious goals; Regina Birdsell has, for more than 30 years, collaborated with business, philanthropy, government, media, and the nonprofit sector to address complex problems and drive positive change. Since coming to CNM in 2006, she has led the development of innovative programs to build the management skills of those who work for the public good, especially Southern California’s nonprofit organizations. Learn more about Regina

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