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I had more opportunities to tackle the issues of revenue generation and the ever present question about nonprofits behaving more like “businesses.” I have opinions about this topic but will write about it in a later correspondence.

I have worked with treatment organizations seeking to gain more insurance fees, and an arts organization hoping to become more self-sustaining by adopting a capitalization strategy. In some cases I worked with a team of consultants to analyze costs and competition, set pricing, and identify the preparedness of the organization’s billing and accountability systems.

Many people who choose nonprofit work are “turned-off” by the idea of acting like a business. I always look for the right balance of capacity and needs to determine readiness of the nonprofit. I also check that the board is in agreement with a possible culture shift for the organization.

I believe nonprofits add great value to the delivery of quality and caring services, from health care to child care that was once reserved for more traditional for-profit providers. It’s our people and their motivation to impact the lives of others that is a differentiating feature in the quality of our programs. I’m glad that large payer systems are recognizing this as well.

I am blessed with several opportunities each year to mentor newer and younger nonprofit directors this past year, and have been struck with how leadership development is often acquired in “fits and starts,” and not through any intentional means. Why isn’t leadership development a priority in the nonprofit sector as it is in the for profit sector? 

I am heartened to have seen more foundations investing in leadership development and new studies are showing how small investments in training and coaching produce big and enduring returns.

Those of us who have served the community as nonprofit leaders for decades can contribute to the capacity building of our newest leaders in many ways. Please let me know if you want to explore this further.  Maybe we can create something together.

See what the Haas Jr. Fund is doing about Leadership Development: http://www.haasjr.org/programs-and-initiatives/leadership/nonprofit-leadership

The next three postings explain my work as an Interim Executive Director followed by a brief overview of how I view Transition Management and how to address Resistance to Change.

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
  • Fundraising
  • 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:




When there is a shift in executive leadership, organizations experience many new and often unexpected challenges. Transition Management research has shown that awareness and understanding of the transition process can benefit all staff and Board members in maintaining a positive outlook about these changes. It can also better prepare the organization for its next phase of leadership.  In addition, a new Executive Director entering an organization will have an easier time adjusting if the organization has done this preparation and if it has been viewed with high levels of optimism about the future of the agency.

Some important concepts about transitions:

  • Change is the objective event: loss of Executive Director; new Executive is hired.
  • Transition is the psychological process of reorientation as a result of the change(s).
  • Transitions must be well managed or change becomes unmanageable.
  • Transitions include three overlapping phases consisting of:

An Ending Phase– gaining closure on the executive’s departure;

A Middle Phase or the Neutral Zone – a time of organizational vulnerability, and importantly, of heightened opportunity; and

A New Beginning Phase– includes the new executive’s welcome and onboarding, and significant organizational changes and new ways of doing business.

My goal as an Interim Executive Director is to be as clear and supportive as possible with the Board of Directors and staff throughout the leadership transition. Some Boards will want to better understand succession planning and how they can best prepare for these changes and avoid pitfalls that might lead to a failed chief executive placement. Others want to utilize the transition time as an opportunity to revisit and reflect on their own governance policies and practices to be sure they are ready to welcome a new chief executive into a reinvigorated organization.  Staff often approach leadership transitions with curiosity about the what the future holds, and a willingness to be part of the process that will ultimately lead to the hiring of a new leader.

I remain open to new ideas while guiding organizations based on my accumulated knowledge, recognizing that new and creative thinking invariably emerges from a transition process. Most importantly, I find the Board is passionate about and willing to take on the important responsibility of searching for a new chief executive while keeping the organization strong and staff morale high. All that is needed is a little expert guidance.

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