Bridging the Leadership Gap

Solving big community problems takes hard work, and the work of many people. Those leading these efforts will imprint projects with their vision, style and preferences. Whether you consider the leadership of a wide-scale community project or single organization, it is important to ensure that the right leaders are in place, ready to take on the promising but arduous road ahead.

In Central Texas and across the country, we know that nearly half of current Executive Directors will leave their positions in four years or less—and almost three-fourths will leave in eight years or less. This of course points to the importance of succession planning, but it also indicates the need for organizations to address leadership during the transition period.


The Role of Interim Leadership

In most cases, organizations are unable to fill an ED’s position prior to their departure, and they must consider options for interim leadership. A knee-jerk reaction is often to fill that spot with a current board or staff member—they are easy to find, clearly enthusiastic about the mission, and know the organization well. However, that DIY approach has some challenges that must be navigated:

  • They may not have experience as a nonprofit executive leader.
  • They may be interested in applying for the full-time position.
  • They already have responsibilities to the organization.

While none of these are insurmountable, the best practice instead is to hire a professional, independent Interim Executive Director, mitigating these issues and setting up the organization to leverage the transition period strategically.

Engaging an interim leadership should be seen as more than filling a job vacancy. An interim director should be engaged as a professional change manager, hired to help the organization transition from the era of the prior to director through an intentional, facilitated process to a state of mission-focused readiness to welcome the next director and succeed.


Core Competencies of an Interim Executive Director

Through Mission Capital’s work in this field locally and as part of a national leadership group, we have developed a set of core competencies for successful/strong interim executives:

  • Independent. Objectivity is especially important during a transition. Not only will this person not be associated with the prior leadership, they have no personal agenda or bias about the next steps for the organization and are better able to focus on the mission and sustainability.
  • Record of success. Previous Executive Director experience (and strong references) will ease the transition. An organization’s transition between leaders can be a delicate time, and this is not the time for someone to learn how to do the job for the first time.
  • Calm in the storm. Part of what makes this a delicate time is uncertainty. The insecurity of staff, board, volunteers, clients, donors, and anyone that your organization touches is high. People wonder who the next leader will be, what direction they’ll take things, and what changes will come. It is important to have an interim on site who can provide stability and assurance based on experience and information.
  • Dynamic. Since it’s important to leverage the transition to pivot the organization and prepare for the next phase of success, it is crucial to have an energizing leader who can rally the team to continue services, make necessary changes, and stay focused on the mission.

Since 2006, Mission Capital has trained nonprofit professionals who demonstrate these competencies to serve as Interim Executive Directors to work with us as part of our executive transition services. Each year Mission Capital runs  a certification program to train a prior nonprofit executives to work independently as interim Executive Directors. You can download this guide to view current Certified Interim EDs and learn more about hiring interim leadership. It is our hope that we will be able to build a strong network of professionals to work together with Central Texas nonprofits to leverage leadership transitions and strengthen organizations’ abilities to focus on solving big community problems.

If you would like more information about the certification program (or know someone who should), please contact us to get dates for upcoming classes.

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