Successful Transitions – a program that works

The possibility of a long-term, trusted and high performing executive director leaving their position is a scary prospect for most boards. It can be made more manageable by intentional planning and open discussions. In addition, taking the time to explore succession planning and leadership development now will benefit the organization immediately through reduced workloads, better trained staff, and the opportunity for future growth.

Through a new program called Successful Transitions, Lincoln organizations developed their plans and prepared for the future. The first Successful Transitions cohort consisted of six nonprofit organizations. One has an executive director who had a firm retirement date less than a year away. Two others have founding executive directors considering retirement some day in the future, but knew they needed to put plans in place for a smooth transition. The other three have no departure plans, but understood that succession planning would benefit the entire organization now and in the future. There was also a wide range of organizations size (staff sizes between 1 and 75) and executive director tenure (2 to 40+ years).

I designed the program to fit this variety of organization situations. During the three group sessions, I presented the core concepts of succession planning, but also allowed time for in depth discussion. Despite their varying backgrounds, the executive directors and board representatives supported each other and had many insights to share.

The first topic was how succession planning looks at far more than just the current executive director. It needs to focus on the entire organization, and how leadership is being developed among staff and board alike. Additional discussion covered how succession planning creates conditions for current ED to succeed, and ensures a sound infrastructure is in place for an emergency, vacation, or a search for a new executive. Each attendee shared stories of how a lack of succession planning had led to a crisis situation for an organization.

In the individual coaching sessions, we explored each executive director’s specific questions. The individual session topics ranged from dealing with a challenging board chair, to exploring the concept of co-executive directors. During the individual sessions, I also answered questions about developing the actual succession plan.

The final piece of the program is a customized training for the board of directors on succession planning. For the founding executive director who is retiring soon, I led a discussion with the board on how they could best support the incoming executive director. For a director who has no plans to leave, the board presentation focused on how succession planning was really about leadership development and sustainability for the organization, which would benefit them now.

Successful Transitions was funded by four local foundations, Cooper Foundation, Woods Charitable Fund, Lincoln Community Foundation and the Community Health Endowment. The program was sponsored by Cause Collective, which strengthens nonprofits in Lincoln through collaboration, education and advocacy.

Melissa Filipi, executive director for Community Services Fund, is one of the directors who has no plans to leave her organization, but saw succession planning as important. She said, ““While we are not facing a transition in the foreseeable future, I felt that having a solid plan in place that captured best practices and common steps would be valuable for Community Services Fund. I want to ensure that when I leave, we have set a solid framework for a smooth transition and future success. We approached this as more than a plan for the Executive Director’s departure by incorporating sustainability and strategic planning into the discussions. Any transition whether staff or board will involve clear discussions about the skills and attributes needed to move CSF’s strategic plan forward.”

Nancy Rosenow, Executive Director at Dimensions, said, “The Successful Transitions program was an exceptionally valuable experience that helped Dimensions Foundation begin thoughtful planning toward a future transition for a long-time executive director. As we learned, it’s so helpful to begin this process years in advance of the actual transition. Ingrid Kirst is an excellent facilitator who ran the program well and shared a wealth of valuable resources. We very much appreciated the opportunity.”

A second round of Successful Transitions will begin in April 2020, with registration beginning in February. I am also available to customize this training for organizations. Please contact me for more information.

Steps of an Executive Director Search

For many small nonprofit boards, hiring a search firm to find their next executive director simply isn’t an option financially. Organizations can do the search themselves, but should involve people in the process who have experience in searches, and to follow best practices. What follows is an overview of the process that will result in the best possible hire on a budget.

Read moreSteps of an Executive Director Search

The Art of Gathering – book review

The Art of Gathering

How We Meet and Why It Matters

By Priya Parker

After reading this excellent book, I understand much better why some gatherings work, and some don’t. Why a too large room changes the atmosphere of a meeting. Why just allowing people to wander off at the end of a three day retreat feels like such a let down. Whether you are organizing a small get together of friends, or a large conference, this book will help you connect people with each other better.

Priya Parker has organized her share of gatherings and has many lessons to share. She starts by having you think about the true purpose of your gathering. Why do you want to have a birthday party? How can a networking event be more than just that? Can people be encouraged to ask for help with a vexing problem? Have a defined outcome, not just an event because you feel you should have an event.

She then walks through each step of the event. Who you invite to your meeting matters. It is OK to keep the guest list limited, because more people doesn’t necessarily make the gathering better. Think about the location and how it is set up. How can you make a contained space for your gathering? Even a picnic blanket sets a boundary. Net, she talks through being a host and how to have gentle control over the group. You aren’t bossing them around, but you are setting ground rules to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable time. Parker includes much more on creating a good gathering from the opening to the closing.

I’ve certainly been to my share of gatherings where there was no official start or end, and you were left wondering what you should do. At one event I was at recently, the organizers got on the microphone to yell at guests who went back for seconds and tell them they couldn’t do that. It isn’t an event I would return to! On the other hand, at a wedding I attended, the family got most of the guests involved in a fun and easy group dance that connected the broad group of friends and relatives with each other and got everyone up and moving.

I’ll be using techniques from the book to create better gatherings in the future. I highly encourage you to read it yourself. It’s available at Lincoln City Libraries and many other locations.

Thanking a Retiring Executive Director

There are a million posts out there on how to thank someone who is retiring by buying them a gift. But how meaningful is a plaque or clock after someone has spent decades serving their community as a nonprofit leader? How can you thank someone in a way that really connects to their work and reminds them that they are valued?

Read moreThanking a Retiring Executive Director

Creating a Great Board Manual

Here’s a selection of items to include in your board manual. Many of these documents you already have. If you find you need to create documents, your current board members will appreciate having them as well, so be sure to share them with everyone. Keep everything brief, but informative.

Consider whether it makes more sense to have these as printed documents, or if you would rather create a shared online area to store them. Every board and board member is different in how they prefer to receive information. Google Drive is a low cost solution that nonprofits often use for sharing documents.

Read moreCreating a Great Board Manual

Taking Finances to the Next Level

For large nonprofit organizations, a chief financial officer (CFO) is a critical part of the management team. A CFO provides a high level of financial knowledge, and helps the organization understand their finances on a deeper level, as well as create plan strategically for its financial future.

For smaller organizations, this level of knowledge isn’t affordable. Some organizations are able to hire a CFO on a contract basis for a limited number of hours per month, but for many, even that cost is too high. This means the executive director needs to develop their financial knowledge to help the organization thrive.

Read moreTaking Finances to the Next Level

Workshop: Cultivate Your Next Board Leaders

Cultivate Your Next Board Leaders

Wednesday, December 12,  8:00 – 9:30am

Presented by Ingrid Kirst

Hosted by Cause Collective

 

It isn’t enough to have every seat filled on your nonprofit’s board. A great board has strong leaders with diverse skills and perspectives, who are willing to step up and grow the organization. Learn to build a stronger board by filling the right seats with the right people and cultivating leaders within. You’ll take back practical ideas to grow your organization. The training is targeted at board chairs and executive directors.

Workshop fee: $15 for Cause Collective Members, $45 for not-yet-members

Guidelines and Principles for Nonprofit Excellence

It can be hard to assess how you compare to other nonprofits. As with any human endeavor, we want to compare ourselves to bigger and better nonprofits, without really knowing the story behind their success. Instead, you are better off steadily improving your organization to be stronger and more resilient based on best nonprofit standards.

The Nonprofit Association of the Midlands provides its Guidelines and Principles for Nonprofits free of charge to Nebraska and Iowa nonprofits.

Read moreGuidelines and Principles for Nonprofit Excellence

Executive Transition Workshop

Executive Transitions Workshop

Wednesday, December 5, 8:00 – 9:30am

Presented by Ingrid Kirst

Hosted by Cause Collective

Every executive director is going to leave their position. It could be in 6 months, it could be in 16 years. No matter when it is, the transition process will be much smoother if the organization has consistently planned for it.

This training will benefit executive directors and board members, starting by helping you initiate the conversation and proceeding through a full plan for the organization. We will cover all the steps an organization needs to take now to prepare for future transitions whether they are sudden or planned months in advance.

The workshop will include:

  • Types of successions
  • The key parts of a comprehensive succession plan
  • Tools to use to prepare for a transition
  • Answers to your questions
  • Resources and templates to use for developing your own plan

Workshop fee: $15 for Cause Collective Members, $45 for not-yet-members