CEO Transition

Leadership change is a constant, especially within the nonprofit sector. While change can be positive, sometimes a leadership transition can feel threatening and crazy making. You don’t know who the new person will be, when they will come onboard, and how it will impact your job and responsibilities. If you work within fundraising, the ever-critical question looms: is this person a fundraiser?

With this column we share suggestions for how to survive a leadership transition and find solid ground. We want you to be proactive in building your relationship with the new leader, whether they are leading your department or the organization as a whole.

When talking with your new leader, seek to learn their vision, goals, and fundraising priorities, if they have any at this point in time. You want to learn how they see their role as it relates to fundraising. If they are joining your nonprofit as an executive, you want to learn whether they see themselves as a fundraiser, a motivator, a strategist, a closer, a manager, or a combination of these roles. Ask what they like and don’t like about fundraising, listening for information that can help you best support their strengths and – if possible – work around those aspects of fundraising they might want to avoid.

Be prepared to concisely share past and present fundraising priorities and an overview of the organization’s fundraising strengths and challenges. Talk about the resources you have within your department including people, technology, resources, and relationships. Share how these impact the organization’s fundraising. Clearly communicate the resources and support you and your department need to be successful. Share information about initiatives or campaigns that are in progress or in the planning stages. Let your new department or organizational leader know where you are with work and prospects that have been assigned to you. Talk about past and current timelines and action items and how these may need to shift.

Be prepared with questions you have. These can include asking about their expectations of the board and other key leaders within the organization, and their expectations of you and your department. Be as specific as you need to be, asking questions such as: How can I help you make the transition as smooth as possible? How often can we meet during this period of on-boarding? How do you want me to report to you – both orally and in writing – and what are the key things you want to know about? What are your priorities and what is the dashboard that you keep your eyes on? What do you need from me for you to be successful during your tenure?

You don’t want to come across as a “yes person” with no mind of your own. You want to be perceived as knowledgeable, experienced, open minded, and ready to partner. Your success, the new person’s success, and the organization’s success will depend on the relationship you form, how you share information, and how you blend your strengths and mitigate weaknesses.


Copyright 2021 – Mel and Pearl Shaw of Saad&Shaw – Comprehensive Fund Development Services. Let us help you plan for 2021 Video and phone conferencing services are always available. Call us at (901) 522-8727. www.saadandshaw.com.

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