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Filling the Gap When You Have a Vacant Leadership Position: Webinar Follow-up

OAI webinar follow-up

Q: What steps should staff and interim leadership take to maintain trust and assurance of existing and potential partners, especially if an “outsider” fills in ED position, whether temporarily or permanently?

A: We recommend being as honest and transparent as possible with your key donors and prospects. Informing these constituents of the changes in a timely fashion is crucial to a smooth transition and your ability to maintain strong relationships. Inform them that your organization has a solid foundation and a solution in place.

We also recommend using leadership changes as an opportunity to meet with your prospects. Help them feel confident about your organization during the transition by talking about the great things that your organization is accomplishing, despite leadership changes.

Q: Fundraising is all about relationships – what is it you DO as a temporary CDO?

A: There is no standard formula for a temporary CDO role. Each organization we work with brings different priorities for the short and long term.

Fundamentally, an interim CDO might take on all of the fundraising management and leave the relationship development and solicitations to other staff. An interim CDO might also work on both the management of the office and relationship development simultaneously. In this case, an interim CDO typically works closely with other leadership to help maintain consistency in relationships (i.e., program staff, the Executive Director, board members, etc.). It is important for donors to have a continued relationship with the organization, but to also maintain contact through a transition.

Q: Who should be involved in creating a succession plan? Board, all executives, etc?

A: The board is a key partner creating the strategy for a succession plan. It is equally important that executive/senior staff is a part of the process to ensure continuity of mission and vision. A smart nonprofit will go the extra mile and involve the opinions of other relevant staff members (e.g., fundraising staff for CDO succession planning) whom are directly affected by the succession plans.

Q: Is it common for organizations to have a succession plan for a CDO? I have only heard of a plan for a CEO departure.

A: As fundraising is becoming an increasingly vital arm of all nonprofits, we recommend you develop a succession plan for your top fundraising position. Given the turnover rates the sector is seeing, having a plan in place will ensure that you can maintain fluidity in your fundraising leadership when transition needs arise. Often organizations will have the next fundraiser in line as the de facto successor (e.g., Director of Major Gifts, Senior Corporate Officer, etc.). Like the succession planning for a CEO, you should consult with various teams in your organization to plan for this. The Development Committee, should you have one, is the natural leader for a succession plan strategy.

Q: Are there any statistics on how often organizations use interim executive directors, and is there a typical position within the organization that takes that role?

A: This a great question - it forced us to search for an answer! The truth is we couldn’t find statistics to answer this accurately. However, given the scores of agencies and independent contractors providing this service, it is safe to say nonprofits are utilizing interim executive directors regularly, especially in times of unexpected turnover. What we did find was that a typical tenure for an interim executive director was four to eight months, during which they worked on average 24-30 hours per week*. These statistics show that outsourced model is being used by some organizations instead of temporary on-staff replacement. Some organizations will fill the gap with a rising leader (CDO, COO) or even a board member.

* SOURCE: Interim Executive Directors: The Power in the Middle, a report produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund

Q: There is a large discrepancy between the vacancy of a CEO and CDO, any idea why that is?

A: There seems to be higher turnover in CDOs when compared to CEOs because there are so many fundraising jobs available and often CDOs move from job to job to take on bigger campaigns and initiatives at new organizations. Also, new nonprofit CEOs do not always come from within the sector. Some transition from for-profit to nonprofit or from government to nonprofit, which increases the pool of candidates for strong CEOs. CDOs, on the other hand, almost always come from within the nonprofit sector, with a few exceptions for those who transition from marketing or sales into fundraising.

Q: When talking about succession plans, is that something that is done internally or one that you recommend an organization seeking outside assistance in putting a plan into place?

A: We think both options have value.

When you create a succession plan internally, the parties involved know the organization and what the organization needs in a leader. They also know the culture and quirks.

When you create a succession plan externally, often you will find that the neutral parties involved often surface the best strategies for moving forward because they can integrate feedback from all parties involved as compared against best practices from the industry.

The preceding is a follow-up by Steve Orr and Emma Kieran of OAI to a handful of questions submitted by participants during the December 11, 2013, webinar, “Filling the Gap When You Have a Vacant Leadership Position," and a cross-post of our Tumblr post here. To view the presentation or listen to the recording of the webinar, please click here.

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice