Losing Your Executive Director Without Losing Your Way

Losing Your Executive Director Without Losing Your Way: A Nonprofit’s Guide to Executive Turnover
by Carol Weisman, Richard I. Goldbaum

Ideally, a nonprofit’s executive director (ED) and board have time and energy to plan ahead for executive transition. Many board members have never had to face the daunting, time-consuming process involved in executive transition. ED turnover is more rapid than in years past, owing to reasons such as the increase in nonprofit organizations, changing (and often more demanding) board and stakeholder expectations of EDs, and increased willingness on the part of both boards and EDs to part company over issues of mission, policy, and management.

This book is an excellent description of the basics of executive director transition, including descriptions of factors that lead to executive director transition and checklists for board members, interim EDs, and others to use in making the transition in nonprofit management as painless as possible.

The authors cite seven “factors,” or reasons, EDs leave a nonprofit: career ladder (advancing in a career), godfather (“they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse”), gone fishing (the ED who is no longer attending to business), sudden loss (injury, illness, or death of the ED), burnout, cutting the mustard (not getting the job done), and the ten-year factor (many EDs sense it’s time to leave, or board culture changes over time to signal to the ED that a change is needed). My consulting practice has included many clients with examples of overlapping factors (the burnout ten-year ED who no longer cuts the mustard and goes fishing), but the basic categories are valid and recognizable.

I especially like the chapter on building strong board-ED relationships. Hiring a new ED represents a fresh opportunity for the board and ED to clarify roles, set expectations, and build the trust and respect that are central to effective nonprofit governance. Of course, part of that process is building transition planning into the new ED’s job responsibilities and the board’s expectations for its own performance. After all, one goal of ED transition should be that it’s easier the next time.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Seven Components of Successful Transition Management
1. Why Executive Directors Leave
2. Preparing for Executive Transition
3. Understanding and Managing the Phenomenon of Change
4. Responding to Executive Transition
5. Appointing an Interim Executive Director
6. Recruiting and Screening the New Executive Director
7. Negotiating, Hiring, and Orienting
8. The Ingredients of a Successful Board-Executive Director Relationship
Resource A: Example of an Executive Search Agreement
Resource B: Example of an Executive Search Guarantee