The turnover of nonprofit leaders as the baby boomers retire is an imminent reality for many organizations. Never before has there been such a large generational change in CEOs and executive directors. Many of these leaders have been in their roles for more than 10 years. Some have led their organizations for more than 20 years.
Some Organizations Create Offensive Strategies
In my experience, approaches to succession planning vary greatly. One current client, a $25 million organization in the health space, is doing it right. The current CEO has been in her role for 25 years. She is not retiring until the end of 2016, giving her colleagues time to plan for the change. (The process began several months ago.)
I am helping to refresh their strategic plan, to ensure that the current direction is still the preferred one. As we do this, we are talking to key stakeholders about the skills and qualities the new CEO will need. This exercise is a preface to creating a job description for the new leader and a succession road map, with milestones like hiring a search firm.
Even if there is an internal candidate being groomed to take over the CEO role, the board and staff should complete this exercise. And almost always, it is beneficial to look at external as well as internal candidates.
My client’s approach does not guarantee that the next CEO will triumph. We are all familiar with the phenomenon of leaders who follow founders or long-serving CEOs and do not last long in their new roles. But it does greatly reduce the likelihood of a poor fit, which can be wrenching for an organization already reeling from the loss of its leader.
Some Wait for the Bullets to Rain Down
The approach described is in stark contrast to that taken by another organization – not a client – where the CEO had been in his role for more than 15 years. It seems that the organization was looking to clone him, with disastrous results. The new leader lasted three years, during which time the organization spiraled into deficit spending and poor morale. When a new CEO was finally chosen, it took her more than two years to right the ship – time when she could have been innovating and planning for the future.
Proactivity Means More Battles Won
There are more instances like that than there should be. It is not easy to plan for the retirement of a much-loved leader. But it is incumbent on the board to make those plans and then implement them. The future of your organization depends on it!
Inspired by a recent Better Business Bureau of New York City panel discussion on non-grant funding for mission-driven organizations, I am devoting this newsletter to the opportunities and challenges associated with revenue from loans (the discussion was sponsored by Seachange Capital Partners). Loans continue to be by far the largest source of non-grant revenue for nonprofits, making them a worthy topic for discussion.
Types of Loans
There are many different kinds of loans, from project finance and mortgages to working capital and lines of credit. Many different types of lenders make loans to nonprofits, from the obvious ones, like banks and community development financial institutions (CFDIs), to the less obvious, like board members and foundations. For many nonprofits, borrowing is a dirty word, and leaders do not take advantage of the funds available to them. Many nonprofits get lines of credit and then don’t use them, only to find that the lines have been canceled because they were not activated.
Loans Require Collateral
What loans have in common is that they require collateral to protect the lender in case the loan is not repaid. Collateral could be a solid asset, like a building. It could also be an unrestricted endowment or funds in reserve. Endowments and reserves presume a solid, larger nonprofit that has been in existence for some time and has a track record of good fiscal management. The purpose of the loan is not to pay this month’s rent or salaries but to finance a new project or get through a period where revenues have been earned but not paid.
To Lend or Not to Lend? That Is the Question
What makes lending tricky for smaller nonprofits is that they can be tempted, under stress, to use future revenues, like gala income or donor pledges, as collateral. Things have not been going well, and the board and executive director are desperate to keep the organization running.
This situation should be a big red flag for the organization’s stakeholders. Even if a board member agrees to make a loan, the board should think hard before accepting it. Without a thoughtful plan for fixing the issues that underlie the lack of financial stability, the loan is at best a stopgap measure.
Most traditional lenders put an organization through a series of tests before making a loan. It is the non-traditional lenders, like board members, who can follow their hearts, not their heads, and make a loan when perhaps they should not.
Think Carefully Before Going Down the Borrowing Road
Loans can be a great source of funding for nonprofits but also a dangerous trap. Think carefully before going down the borrowing road.
Last month, I looked at retaining good talent for your nonprofit once you have found the right employees for the job. This month, I take a step back and look at hiring the right people in the first place. This is a hot topic in the U.S. because the economy is improving consistently and the job market is growing.
What Do Your Employees Really Do?
So what is a hiring manager to do? The first step is to make sure you have a really good job description. That means a job description that accurately reflects what the person in the role really does — not what we think they should be doing or would be doing in a perfect world. If your organization is small, there will probably be a lot of doing as well as managing.
Find the Needle in the Haystack
The second step is posting the job in the right places. We all know about idealist.org and philanthropy.com. And there are always specialized sites for people with particular skill sets like accounting (FENG) or human resources (SHRM). And, of course, don’t forget LinkedIn. My husband recently found out about a job because someone in one of his interest groups posted an announcement.
The third step is targeting the people you want rather than just those who answer your ads. LinkedIn is critical to this effort. Find the groups you should be posting in based on the type of job for which you are recruiting. Most people in these groups are happy in their jobs. But perhaps a few of them could be tempted to apply if you wrote them a personalized note.
Keep Track of All Those Haystacks
Would you like a great way to manage your pipeline of candidates? You might want to check out iKrut, a free recruitment software system used by both companies and job applicants. iKrut allows you to:
Post all your vacancies in one place.
Give selected colleagues a way to view and comment on applications without emailing them around.
Track how applicants found the posting.
Send automated emails to candidates rather than worrying about whether or not you have responded to each one.
Old-fashioned Manners Still Have a Place
Striking the right balance between personalized and electronic is a challenging task in our technological age. If you have found a candidate you really like, make sure to call and thank her for coming in for yet another interview. Such gestures are uncommon today, and you will be amazed by the difference they make.
Excessive staff turnover, in both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds, just won’t go away. In the search to retain talent, nonprofits would seem to be at a disadvantage because most of them pay lower salaries. This is particularly true of jobs that are common to both worlds, like controller, executive assistant, and human-resources manager. Since workers do not reach peak efficiency and effectiveness until the third year on the job, there are many advantages to improving staff retention.
What can you, as a nonprofit leader, do to retain talent at your organization? There are at least three steps you can take that do not have to cost a lot of money.
1. Bring Your Mission into the Daily Life of Everyone on Your Staff
Most people who come to work for a nonprofit do so because they care passionately about a cause. This is an area where nonprofits have a distinct advantage over most corporations. You may have staff — for example, social workers, camp counselors, or health-care workers — who interact with your clients daily. But there are always staff members who do not.
Make it easy for your staff to meet clients, either by bringing them into your meetings or by using Skype if they are far away. Circulate great stories, letters, e-mails, and tweets not only to your program staff but also to your finance, information-technology, human-resources, and facilities employees. If you do this every day, employees may begin to ignore the messages. Intermittent communication is often best.
2. Be Nice to Your Staff
This may sound like Mom and apple pie. It is not. If you have time to feed the hungry and educate the underprivileged, you have time to smile and say hello to your staff.
In her New York Times article “No Time to Be Nice,” Georgetown University professor Christine Porath chronicles the rudeness that has overtaken the workplace in the past 10 to 20 years. Porath argues that rudeness hurts profits, health, and happiness. And she has the studies to prove it.
3. Listen to and Act Upon What Your Employees Say About Their Workplace
You may think that salary is the biggest determinant of whether an employee stays or goes. And, of course, sometimes it is. But you might be surprised. Perhaps implementing summer Fridays or providing some tuition reimbursement is more important.
To find out what employees want, you have to ask them. And then you have to act on at least some of their suggestions and explain why some were adopted and some were not. If you start this process, you must follow through, even if you are able to give them only a small fraction of what they’ve requested.
My clients often ask me whether they should form an advisory board. Or, if their organization already has one, they wonder how to get more value from it. They complain that the members are simply names taking up space on letterhead. Why did they bother forming one in the first place?
The key to a successful advisory board is remembering one word: ADVISORY. As with a corporate advisory board, the primary role of a nonprofit advisory board is “advice.” It is not money-giving or friend-raising—or any of the other jobs you expect your board of directors to do. In other words, the advisory board is not an extension of your board of directors or a repository for board candidates who did not make the cut.
Most nonprofits need advice from experts in their fields of endeavor, whether health policy, education, or poverty reduction. The quality of their work depends on it, and experts generally like it when you ask their advice. If they don’t, move on to people who do.
Here are two questions to ask before you decide to create a permanent advisory board:
Do we have the resources to adequately support the advisory board; provide its members with information and updates; and perhaps visit them periodically to remind them of the good work we do?
Will it really benefit our image to have those names permanently associated with our organization? (Just because everyone else has an advisory board doesn’t mean you have to have one.)
Once you have that advisory board, be prepared to work hard to keep its members engaged. Advisory board members are usually high-powered, in-demand experts who are doing you a big favor by lending their name to your organization. Remember, they are not getting paid the way they would be if you were a corporation.
Do not expect them to return phone calls or respond to email right away. You must find ways to keep their enthusiasm for your organization high so that, once or twice a year, you can ask them to support your grant application to a particular foundation or answer that critical question that means the difference between a program succeeding or failing.
Should you ever try to get your advisory board to meet in person? Maybe not. If you have a topic where you need input from all advisory board members, and it would be best if they were discussing it together, by all means facilitate some sort of exchange. These days, with technology, there is little need for people to come together in person. Would it be nice if they became friends? Of course, it would. But it is not your job to facilitate this and can mean a lot of wasted energy.