Planning for Success(ion)

A friend of ours, a veteran Executive Director, asks:

What is needed as the "old ED" passes the reins to the new one?
I have been working on this, per my Board President’s urging, on giving her
everything I can think of in writing.

So far, that’s included: all the old newsletters and annual reports since I
started (they didn’t do much of that before), a slightly outdated, but still
helpful Board manual, copies of my most recent proposals, the most recent
appeal letter sent, the budget, recent financials, the audit, this year’s
and last’s grants lists, the Board and staff lists, the bylaws, and the HR
policies.  I sent a lot electronically, with annotations about most
documents. . . .I gave her some strategic planning
documents today, but I need to send her more — which I’ll do. . . .

When she starts, I know one thing I want to do is go through each funder’s
file and each government contract with her right away.

Can you think of anything I am missing?  I’m feeling my way in
the dark here, but I’m trying to be comprehensive.

Leaving some sort of "Prolegomena to Any Future [Your Agency Name Here]" is a great gift to the person who comes after; so why do so few Executive Directors do it?  Some wait to resign/retire until they’re completely burned out, and the last thing they want to do is think any more about the agency; some imagine that their personal charisma is the key to the agency’s success, making documentation of individual activities irrelevant.  Others are genuinely humble and think their advice and experience would only impede a new leader’s effort to make her mark while still others are afraid if they write down what they’ve done that will shine a spotlight on what they’ve done badly, or not at all.  But people will discover those errors and omissions anyway, and the best way to leave with your halo intact is to leave behind a frank description of what you’ve done and how it’s worked.

That means the main thing the Nonprofiteer would add to our E.D.’s list of things to pass along is a free-form narrative about the job: what the Executive Director does (has done) in an
average day/month/year.  The point isn’t to complete a time sheet but to provide guidance about how much time s/he has spent on what portion of her responsibilities, guidance that can sometimes lead to interesting reflections on whether there are any time-consuming tasks that aren’t proportionately productive.  If so, the outgoing E.D. can recommend that the incoming E.D. delegate those items as part of her regime change.

The real point, of course, is not the specifics of delegation: it’s the written authorization to change things.  The new Executive Director is going to meet resistance at every turn, because s/he necessarily represents change and change is disruptive and s/he has no internal political capital with which to purchase cooperation.  The old E.D. has oodles of such capital that she’ll never have any other occasion to expend; she should blow it all on the new E.D.’s behalf.

So load up on what you always meant to do but didn’t or couldn’t, and why (this is the place for confidential observations about Board recruitment, funder relations, external circumstances); and what you’d do differently if you could now that you know what you know. 

The truth is, it’s like each new Presidential Administration: whatever the previous group did is ultimately irrelevant, but a friendly White House predecessor can at least steer the new kid around obvious holes in the sidewalk.

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