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As the new Ontario government begins to implement their election platform, many in the not-for-profit sector are taking a wait-and-see approach to plans and programs. Certainly, much of this is expected and indeed appropriate during a government transition – new spending and initiatives are on hold once the election writ is dropped and until the new government confirms their priorities for each ministry. This can happen quickly in some sectors and in others be a painfully long wait.

Boards of Directors of charities and not-for-profits may not be aware that another set of transitions is being considered by your senior staff leaders. The time is ripe for many senior leaders to evaluate their tenure at the head of their organization.

Ages & Stages

Has your Executive Director already been through more than one significant government change? Your ED may be well aware that funding opportunities, accountabilities, and program parameters can change drastically during this period. And, she may be thinking that now is an excellent time to change positions.

Or, is he at the age where retirement beckons? There are many baby boomers ready to retire and this transition may be the impetus needed for some to choose retirement over the uncertainty of the next few months.

The Role of the Board

Now is the time for Boards of Directors to engage their senior leaders in a strategic conversation about the prospects of your organization – not-for-profit or charity – over the short term. The key question is, does your organization have contingency plans if program support is postponed or canceled? The Board needs to work with senior leaders to ensure these plans are prepared and appropriately resourced.

This is also the ideal time to broach the subject of future plans for paid and voluntary leadership. Is your executive director ready and energized to lead the organization through the government transition?  Regardless of the outcome of that conversation, Boards should be checking whether they have a succession plan for their executive director or if their succession plan has been updated recently. If the answer to any of these questions is no, the Board will need to take actions such as striking a working group or assigning responsibility to your HR Committee for creating or reviewing a succession plan as a priority agenda item.

Interim Leadership

If your executive director is ready to make a change, consider hiring an interim executive director as part of your succession plan. Typically, Boards of Directors underestimate the length of time it takes to hire a new executive director. Six months is a common time frame and if the initial search does not produce a good candidate, the search period may extend much longer.

Six months is a long time for an organization to be without leadership. Boards will, in many cases, assign “acting executive director” status to capable but fully employed senior staff or themselves take on the role during the search. The results are often less than optimal with staff and volunteers exhausted by the additional responsibilities or simply unable to devote the time and attention needed to fulfill the role.

Boards that understand both the ongoing needs of their not-for-profit or charity and the timelines for an executive search will opt for an interim executive director. Interim executive directors are seasoned, experienced, and focused on maintaining forward momentum during interim assignments. They ensure your Board can concentrate on the search for a new executive director who is a perfect long-term fit.