By Bob Phillips
“Après moi le deluge” (after me the flood) — the famous quote from King Louis XV of France should not be part of the mission statement of a nonprofit.
Yet very few agencies have prepared themselves for the flood of problems that will surely swamp them if they don’t have a plan on how to replace their leadership when the inevitable time of transition comes.
One of the less-known and even less-acknowledged facts about the leadership of nonprofits, especially in a retirement area like Southern Arizona, is that it is aging, rapidly. About two-thirds of all nonprofit leaders are planning to leave their jobs in the next five years. Informal interviews with a sample of Green Valley nonprofits suggests that the figure is conservative as most local leaders plan to be doing something else or nothing else five years from now.
In an area that relies on committed and talented volunteers to carry the bulk of the work of its nonprofit agencies, it must be noted that most of these volunteers and the staff members who depend on them are themselves older with a diminishing will and ability to carry the load of their agency’s programs. It is one thing to hire and/or recruited staff and volunteers in their 30s or 40s who will be around for a long time, and quite another when your labor pool is mostly stocked with folks in their 60s and 70s and beyond.
So – back to succession. How does a nonprofit recruit and retain its leadership and workforce in a retirement community? Some suggestions:
•Do not rely on too few for too much – breakdown and burnout are at the end of that path.
•Limit your program aspirations and agency goals to your available and renewable resources.
•When you are recruiting new board members, look for some that are new to the community (meaning that they haven’t already gotten involved in a lot of activities) have nonprofit management experience and look like they will be around for a while.
•Recruit and utilize interns from the high schools and colleges with community service programs of nearby communities like Sahuarita and Tucson. As those communities are a reasonable commute, perhaps they will provide your future leadership.
•If you have had an executive director who was the founder and/or has been with the agency for a long time, consider hiring a temporary executive director (who doesn’t want the permanent job) to help you figure out what you want in the future that will necessarily be different than the past.
•Consider sharing leadership positions by dividing up responsibilities so that one person doesn’t carry the whole load.
•Work with the Greater Green Valley Community Foundation’s Nonprofit Learning Institute to develop and adopt a succession plan that would contain the elements listed above.
At the end of the day, preparing for the future of your favorite cause is the best way of ensuring that it will have one.