Even for seasoned funders, supporting leadership transitions can be a tricky business. Where is the fine line between helping and intruding? What interventions work? And how can a grantmaker play a constructive role? Learn how grantmakers take up the transition challenge, engage with boards, support new CEOs, and help grantees use the moment to go in promising new directions.
Underwriting for this guide was provided by the Ford Foundation and theAnnie E. Casey Foundation.
Build the leadership skills of senior managers, especially people of color and women and encourage diversity on grantee boards. “If the board lacks diversity, it won’t be likely to look to people of color for leadership. And even if they do hire a person of color to be CEO, that person isn’t likely to stay long if the board isn’t committed to values of diversity and inclusion.”Read More »
Develop opportunities for peer support and education. Being an executive director can be a lonely position, said a former CEO who is now a program officer. New CEOs often benefit from getting together with peers in learning circles and participating in courses or institutes for new executive directors.
Some grantmakers provide departing CEOs with opportunities for reflection and networking, along with services designed to help them deal with professional, social, personal, and financial issues. These include:Read More »
Recognize and respond to CEOs’ concern: Grantmakers are quick to acknowledge that grantee organizations, and the larger nonprofit sector, owe successful CEOs — especially founding or long-time CEOs — a debt of gratitude. Yet outgoing CEOs often wrestle with serious problems: from insufficient retirement funds to limited or no job opportunities; from isolation from former peers to fear of losing one’s identity; from concern for the organization’s future to lack of clarity about when to leave, how to leave, and what the options are. As one consultant noted, sometimes the problem is as simple as being “a bit clueless about what they might do next. They need clear models of folks who have moved on to different types of work in the nonprofit sector."Read More »
Executive transition management is a structured consultancy service for nonprofits managing changes in their executive leadership. Foundations played a major role in developing the model and have subsidized the growth of the field by making grants that enable nonprofits to hire transition consultants, supporting training for nonprofit consultants in the model, and forming funders’ collaboratives to develop local and regional transition management services... Its motto, “prepare, pivot, thrive,” sums up its view of leadership transition as a “pivotal moment, enabling an organization to change direction, maintain momentum, and strengthen its capacity.”Read More »
Paying for a consultant, one grantmaker explained, can be a good way to support a transition while keeping an appropriate distance from the organization... the funder’s role, she stressed, is not hands-on; that’s where the consultant comes in. Often, the relationship between the consultant and the grantee is confidential, and the grantee knows upfront what information the consultant will give to the foundation.Read More »
Pull together and share resources on the latest executive transition and leadership succession theory and practice, and the services available.
Provide contact information for other nonprofits that have undergone successful executive transitions.
New CEOs need some “breathing room.” A transition is a time “when the new chief executive needs breathing room, to think about your vision, to spend enough time with your employees and with your principal stakeholders,” explained a new CEO of a women’s organization. “The best way to create breathing room is by easing the burden around meeting financial goals. There’s nothing better for a chief executive to be able to tell their board than that they’re raising money, and nothing better than for it to be so-called ‘easy money’ for general support, for transition, so you don’t have to bend over backwards to make up some new reason to need it. You can say what the real reason is.”Read More »
Succession planning: A grantmaker at a West Coast foundation explained that simply asking for a plan outlining the proposed timeline and steps in the transition process can be a helpful move... Some funders urge their grantees to have in place a written leadership succession plan... The plan should clarify the circumstances under which it would come into effect, along with key roles and responsibilities.Read More »
One CEO, for 20 years head of a training center for community leaders and now about to retire, said that he had started to see funders hesitate to commit to their usual grants to his organization. He called it the “worst possible response” to an outgoing CEO.Read More »
Systematic executive transition and leadership succession programs make materials available on the web:Read More »
This guide was written primarily for foundation executives, board members, or grantmakers facing a leadership change at a grantee organization. In addition to using it to clarify your own thinking, you may want to share the guide: