Transitions are powerful opportunities to strengthen non-profit organizations. Properly managed and supported with expert executive transition services, they can serve as “pivotal moments,” enabling organizations to change direction, maintain momentum, build or rebuild its infrastructure, and clarify its mission and vision. Poorly managed executive transitions incur high costs to organizations and communities.
The use of Interim Executive Directors/CEOs can be a powerful capacity-building and sustainability strategy for organizations that want to not only survive a leadership transition, but also want to grow and thrive. What follows are some of the steps I take to insure that I start out as positively as possible in the role of Interim Executive Director.
The IED’s Role
The primary function of the IED is to manage the day to day operations of the organization and support the Board of Directors in carrying out the business of the agency. Since the interim role and tenure is more limited than the Executive Director, not all responsibilities will be carried out with equal attention, but each is equally important. Decisions about priorities are established early with the Board of Directors and staff during an assessment period. Duties encompass:
- Financial management
- Board policies and procedures/governance
- Staffing roles and organizational structure
- Program operations
- Culture and communications
- Strategic and business planning
- Major events and organization calendar
- New executive director search and onboarding (assist the Board if needed)
- Specific goals and workplan for key staff and the transition period
Sample Transition Steps for the First Two-Four weeks of the IED Tenure
The first two-four weeks are a critical time for clarification and communication with the Board, management team, and staff in order to insure alignment with the IED roles and responsibilities. Some of my primary tasks include:
- Meet with the agency transition committee (or executive committee) to gain their perspective on the current status of the organization and to orient them on how best to utilize an IED.
- If possible, interview the departing Executive Director to determine agency status from his/her perspective and critical tasks requiring immediate action.
- Meet with management team or key staff, particularly with the finance director, program directors, and development director to gain perspective on team dynamics, accomplishments, and areas for review as well as report or grant deadliens. Visit program sites and observe programs in action.
- Meet with primary funders to insure stability of the contracts, grants and donations and determine any areas needing attention.
- Review key financial documents: audit, 990s, budget, financial statements with YTD actual vs. projections, profit and loss -particularly for earned revenue streams, balance sheet, and cash flow projections.
I then develop an IED workplan that includes performance goals and objectives based on my initial analysis and review of all aspects mentioned above and developed in collaboration with the Board to envision the future.
Communication is the name of the game during a transition. It is important to clarify the type of communications expected from your IED such as monthly reports, regular check-in meetings, and a final report with closing recommendations.
Onboarding of the new Executive Director is a critical last task that allows for a sufficient transfer of knowledge and creates a platform for a smooth transition. I strive for a “public” hand-off with the staff and some Board members from the IED to the new ED so a positive ending, and new beginning, can be established.
As an IED, I maintain awareness of these principles throughout my tenure. I watch for behaviors and actions that might be the result of anxiety often associated with change and work hard with staff to alleviate and normalize concerns. I also keep an eye towards the positive aspects of change, focusing on staff and organizational strengths, and preparing for the new Executive Director.
For additional resources about Executive Transitions and Interim Executive Directors/CEO’s, click below: