The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

7 Follow Up Questions About 7 Habits

During our “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Organizations” webinar on March 19th, we only had time to discuss a small fraction of the questions that came in from participants. We asked Lowell Weiss, president of the Cascade Philanthropy Advisors and a Leap Ambassador, to provide answers to some of the many great questions left in the queue at the end of the webinar.

Philanthropy, Diversity, and Equity

In May, the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), in partnership with the Black Philanthropic Network, released the report The Exit Interview: Perceptions on Why Black Professionals Leave Grantmaking Institutions (21 pages, PDF). The report highlights the need for leadership pipelines, development programs, and effective retention strategies targeting African-American professionals in philanthropy and was prompted by the sense here at ABFE that too many African Americans were leaving the field. Indeed, data from the Council on Foundations—though not provided in a way that enabled us to analyze trends over time—seems to support our assumption.

How Your CEO Can Use Social for Thought Leadership

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Good strategy needs sound data: response to ‘Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World’

The following is a cross-post of an article by Angela Kail that first appeared on Latest from Alliance, the blog of Alliance magazine. To read the original post, click here.

The Lake Washington Declaration

This past summer, GuideStar’s President and CEO Jacob Harold worked with 70 nonprofit leaders to draft a set of principles with the goal of helping the social sector build a data-driven infrastructure. What came of that workshop is now known as the Lake Washington Declaration.

How do we think about political nonprofits?

Editor’s note: Lee Drutman is a visiting fellow at GuideStar. Lee has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley and studies lobbying and money and politics. Formerly, he was a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation.

Five Great Ways to Get Your New Board Members on Board

The following is a cross-post from Board Assist's February 17th blog post. Click here to read the original article.

Terrible Board Members Are Created, Not Born

So much has been written and presented within the nonprofit world about how to work around and/or replace terrible board members. However, nobody seems to want to confess as to where they came from.

Recommended Reading from Jacob Harold

About once a week, GuideStar’s President and CEO Jacob Harold writes a note to staff that tackles a variety of topics, most notably updates on the organization’s mission, vision, strategy, and results; insight into analytics, tensions, and trends across the nonprofit sector and philanthropy; and articles and think pieces that impact our world and our work.

Do You Know Who's Next? Planning for Changes in Leadership

Steve Ballmer rocked the tech world earlier this year when he announced his upcoming retirement. Why was that so shocking (other than Microsoft's being the 800-pound gorilla in that industry)? The news instantly generated more questions than answers, mainly because there wasn't a clear successor. People within Microsoft, those who do business with Microsoft, and manufacturers who rely on their Microsoft products were all wondering, "What's next?" That kind of upheaval is tough to overcome, as evidenced by the continuing dialogue in the media around Microsoft's future.

If you've ever been part of a nonprofit that goes through an abrupt leadership change, you've experienced a version of this upheaval. In the nonprofit world success is tied to relationships and trust. Both take a hit when the leader leaves and there's no clear successor or plan for succession. On the other hand, if there's a plan in place and someone is ready to step in, or there's a defined path to finding the next leader, you've answered many of the questions that supporters, partners, board, and even staff may have about the changes.

Before you work out the details of a succession plan for your organization, it's important that you get the board and leadership to agree on the need for the plan. It should be an organizational decision that is presented in writing, approved formally by the board, and reviewed regularly to ensure the plan remains relevant.

For larger organizations, the ideal situation often is to have one or more internal candidates who can be groomed to take on the top job. Just because a plan is in place, however, doesn't mean that the individual(s) receiving additional training and preparation are "automatic" to get a promotion; that point should be made clear to all. This concern should not be an impediment to developing a plan with an internal candidate and then doing everything possible to prepare that person to take on more responsibility.

The situation with most nonprofits, however, is that they don't have enough "bench strength" to have internal candidates. In this situation, it's even more important to have a written succession plan. In fact, the plan should address two distinct possibilities—what would be done if there were an immediate loss of the leader, and what is the long-term plan as a result of an anticipated departure (e.g., retirement). Call the first option the "Lottery Scenario," where the leader leaves the organization abruptly. In this situation, is there someone (a staff member, board member, volunteer) who could take over on an interim basis? If not, there are organizations and individuals that provide interim leader services for a price. In either of these cases, the solution is temporary, but it can ensure that operations are maintained until a longer-term solution can be arranged.

The longer-term solution also addresses the second possibility, a leader's planned departure. In this situation, the succession plan may call for a formal executive search for the next leader. This process will take time (and probably some expense), but it allows the organization time to go through a thoughtful and deliberative process. That is, the organization should step back and evaluate what traits, experience, and skills are needed to move the organization in the direction the board has determined. If done properly, the search also will cast a large enough net to ensure that the candidates identified have the ability to lead the organization for years to come.

A well-done succession plan accomplishes more than one goal. Certainly it lays out a clear path to replacing lost leadership. It also sends a message to constituents—the organization is in it for the long haul—even beyond the tenure of current leadership. The nonprofit has thought through what to do when it's time for leadership to change and wants those associated with the organization to know that they are doing everything in their power to ensure that the valuable services provided continue into the future.

Bill Hoffman, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC
© 2013, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC

Bill Hoffman has more than 30 years' expertise in various aspects of the nonprofit sector, having worked at all levels of nonprofit organizations, including serving as chief executive of a $6 million education foundation for 9 years. He and his firm have written and presented on topics ranging from board development to community and volunteer engagement, organizational development and performance, and best practices in national, regional, and state publications and symposia.