What would you do if your executive director unexpectedly left? – A Three Part Series
This three part series discusses the important role of an interim executive director during a time of organizational transition. We asked Chiquita Tuttle, our west coast director of fund development services, and an experienced interim director, for her thoughts and guidance.
Whether the transition is planned or unexpected it is the role of an interim executive director to provide leadership. Change is a constant in life, but we can do our best to prepare for it. Interim directors are called into an organization during times of transition. It could be the sudden loss of an executive director, whether due to their being let go or through an anticipated transition.
According to Tuttle, the role the interim director plays will depend upon what’s going on in the organization, but there are always certain requirements.
“The interim executive director will be providing overall leadership and management of the organization; working with the management team; maintaining and rebuilding external relationships with funders; maintaining service delivery and client focus; and representing the agency publicly,” says Tuttle.
The board and executive director of an organization should always work closely together for optimal results. This is especially true with an interim director, when the board must monitor their work to ensure that they are doing the job specified in the contract. The board and interim director must have open communication, trust and transparency for the job to be done successfully.
While many of the responsibilities remain the same, there are some differences when an organization is led by an interim executive director. “The board can expect the interim director to be less involved in the daily political aspects of the agency,” says Tuttle. “The interim director will be reviewing the operations and management with an external lens and making decisions based on his or her experience.” She says the board should be supportive of those decisions given the appropriate rationale and background. In some cases the interim director will need to be assertive if he or she has been brought on to implement a new direction for the agency. But an interim has to walk a fine line between implementing change and not alienating staff or other stakeholders.
Regardless of the circumstances of the interim executive director’s arrival, his or her job will have some similarities. “The key things are managing and leading the organization. Being transparent and communicating with staff is critical,” says Tuttle. Keeping the board apprised of goals, objectives and decisions is paramount. Building trust and credibility will ensure a smooth transition in any circumstance. Typically, interim executive director assignments range from 3 months to 18 months.
Part two focuses on two roles an interim director may play: caretaker and change agent.
© Copyright Mel and Pearl Shaw. Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (510) 798-4888.
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