Nonprofit 411: Lessons for Long-Tenured Nonprofit Executives and Founders

By Tom La Salvia, Senior Consultant at Raffa LaSalvia photo

As a seasoned nonprofit leader, your life has been dedicated to creating an organization that the community relies on and often treasures. You have committed your time and talent and want your investment to continue to do good after you leave. Too often, that good work is interrupted and even comes to an end if the transition is not well planned or if an unplanned leadership transition occurs.

6 Proven Actions to Preserve and Advance Your Organization Mission:

1. Start Now
Don’t wait to the last year or two to prepare. Reframe the conversation with your Board from being about you and your plans to being about the organization’s sustainability and growth and how to ensure leadership continuity in all key positions.

2. Clarify Departure Time
Many long-tenured executives are conflicted about when and how to leave, what you want to do next and setting expectations from the Board relative to compensation and post-departure involvement. The organization will never be perfect and it is unlikely there will be a perfect moment to discuss your departure with the Board. Most organizations need 12-24 months to prepare for a founder or long-term executive transition.

3. Conduct an Organizational Assessment
Engage Board and staff leadership in a process facilitated by someone other than you that clarifies strengths, aspirations for change, and a priority action plan for the best and highest use of your remaining years.

4. Identify Critical Departure Steps
Clarify what you personally need to do to leave successfully. Are you financially ready to leave? What will you do when you leave? Do you still want to work or volunteer in your field? Is there unfinished business you want to advance? What emotional support do you have or need for letting go? Are there skills and interests that have gone under attended that you want to explore?

5. Stick to the Departure Date
The Board may want you to stay forever or be in denial that you will ever leave. Once you are clear, pick a date, stick to it and communicate as the timeline nears.

6. Don’t go it Alone
You do not have to do this alone. Explore what others have done and give yourself the gift of time to consider your options. Seek professional coaching services and other resources available to you. For example, over 500 founders and long-tenured executives have found our Next Steps workshop invaluable in planning for their eventual transition. This workshop is a resource to provide a safe place to explore these questions with peers in similar situations.

Raffa is an affiliate member of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network. Learn more massnonprofitnet.org/join. You can also learn more through MNN’s April webinar featuring Tom: Building Your Bench Strength through Succession Planning.

Upcoming Next Steps workshop for CEO’s: Hartford (May 11-12) and Baltimore (July 27-28). These two-day workshops focus on you, what you have co-created with the leaders of your organization, and how to prepare yourself, your organization, staff, and board for your eventual departure. These “tough-to-talk-about” topics are guided to help you ensure your hard work and legacy endures.