HELPING THE NEW CEO FACE THEIR TWO MOST DIFFICULT CHALLENGES

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October 2013

Every agency at one time or another faces the difficult task of hiring a new CEO.  If they are fortunate they will be able to find someone who comes to them with the experience of being a successful executive in another agency. But for a smaller and mid-sized agency, they will most likely bring in someone with good program and administrative skills, either from the nonprofit or private sector, but with little or no executive level experience.

The Board should be aware that the two most critical challenges facing any nonprofit executive go beyond what they bring to the job; raising money and board development.  From my work with hundreds of executives, no matter how good they were in running the agency, these challenges keep them up at night.

Fund raising is becoming more and more important since contracts and grants cover specific services and are time-limited. How do you cover the cost of a growing agency? How can you build a long-term financial plan when it’s possible that in any year continued funding might be in jeopardy? The only reliable source of income comes from on-going support from private individuals. While regular fundraising events are important, they are expensive to mount and take an inordinate amount of staff time. How can a new executive increase the amount of money that comes from sustained annual giving by individuals?

Perhaps even a greater challenge to CEOs is how to create a board of directors who understands their role to guide the destiny of the agency.  The Board is the real owners of the agency, even though sometimes they act as if the staff owns the agency and they are just bystanders. If the CEO is too strong, the Board may step back and allow him/her to run the agency the way they want, until there is a real problem; then they blame the CEO.  If the CEO relies too heavily on the Board, action often becomes the victim of too much process. Execs constantly struggle to find the right balance.

My experience has been that most new CEOs need a mentor or coach with deep executive experience, who has learned how to raise money and to create an effective Board of Directors.  They can be there to offer on-the-job advice to the CEO as he/she struggles with these critical challenges. This includes helping the CEO build a better case for giving to the agency, creating a stewardship plan for sustaining and increasing annual giving, and making sure the Board has the resources and commitment to be real partners in creating a more effective agency in the future.

With over 30 years of experience, and after working with hundreds of CEOs, I hope I can help a new executive succeed.

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