Giving Compass’ Take:
• Here are a few learnings on how to gracefully navigate nonprofit leadership successions so that everyone can be successful in the end.
• As a donor, what do successful nonprofits look like to you? How do successions impact programs and outcomes?
• Read about the nonprofit leadership development deficit.
As the baby boomer generation’s leadership era comes to a close, the nonprofit community is already feeling the effect. According to our research, approximately eight out of 10 CEOs of Jewish charities will retire in the coming decade, and figures are likely to be similar at nonprofits servicing other communities. CEO successions can be daunting for volunteer boards—and frankly, many are not handled well. We recently set out to share the stories of several successful nonprofit leadership transitions in the hope that their stories could act as models and provide inspiration for other nonprofits.
We interviewed dozens of board members, outgoing CEOs, staff, donors, and other stakeholders at six nonprofits to reconstruct how organizations have overcome common succession challenges. Reflecting on these stories, we uncovered several important lessons for boards and their search committees.
CEOs often don’t like to discuss stepping down, especially if they are long-serving and facing retirement. A solution is for boards to view CEO successions not as an event but as a process in which long-serving CEOs are given time and space to come to terms with stepping aside.
Academics have shown that women are, in general, more averse to risk than men—which is likely a main reason why they may be reluctant to put themselves forward for demanding CEO roles.
CEO successions at nonprofits can be like funerals or like marriages: They can be an opportunity for the organization and the community it serves to come together, or they can be an opportunity to splinter apart. Hopes for the future—as well as grievances about the past—often need to be aired, but shutting down debate and deliberating in secret can create problems. By contrast, a bias for transparency can go a long way toward ensuring community buy-in and support when a successor is announced.
Read the full article about nonprofit secessions by Gali Cooks and Eben Harrell at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
If you are looking for more articles and resources for Nonprofit Sector, take a look at these Giving Compass selections related to impact giving and Nonprofit Sector.
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