DMAW: More Work Needed to Avoid Leadership Crisis in Transitions

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WASHINGTON -- Fundraising and finance are the two components in avoiding a leadership crisis, experts at the Direct Marketing Association of Washington's annual Bridge Conference said July 13.

Executive directors and their relationship with their organization's board was the focus of the session. One in three executive directors eventually get fired, and 75 percent leave the position after five years.

"I think the 2000s is the decade for leadership in this sector," said Don Tebbe, partner and co-founder of TransitionGuides, a consulting and educational services company in Washington.

The Meyer Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Washington, conducted research through Web surveys, focus groups in seven U.S. cities and data analysis. It received 1,932 responses from small to midsize groups. There were no responses from hospitals, universities or trade associations.

"We wanted to use this study to focus on building a pipeline of leaders," said Richard Moyers, the foundation's program officer. "This is too big for any one organization to do alone."

Mr. Moyers said that directors should lead through broadening their geography, engaging partners and advisers and by focusing on supporting executives.

The Meyer Foundation study also showed that only 29 percent of executives discuss their successors with the board.

"Executive directors must accept their responsibility to fundraising," said Betsy Johnson, executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, Washington. "They must develop the successor's relationship with the board instead of just coaching them."

Ms. Johnson said that executive directors could do this by rethinking their strategic planning, building skills in finance and fundraising and even hiring a paid executive coach. Eight percent of directors have used a coach to gain confidence and vanquish fears before taking ideas to the board. These coaches are seen as agents of professional and leadership development.

"The really effective executive directors are the ones who can help the board find their voice while also finding their own," Mr. Tebbe said. "The board is dying to be heard, too."

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