NC Center for Nonprofits Launches Statewide Initiative on Executive Succession

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by Chad Nance

By Stephanie Hess


The N. C. Center for Nonprofits announced a new statewide initiative to help nonprofit boards of directors and executive directors plan for the massive changes in leadership expected as Baby Boomers retire. The Center will offer an opportunity to learn about this in a one-day workshop on September 20 in Concord, N.C.


Tom Adams, the national guru on nonprofit executive transitions, will present this workshop. Adams is President and co-founder of TransitionGuides, a national consulting company that advises nonprofits on leadership succession, executive transitions, and transition management. Jeanie Duncan, Senior Consultant at TransitionGuides, will also facilitate the discussion. This workshop, and other parts of this new initiative, will focus on executive transitions and on deepening the bench of talent for both staff and board members within nonprofits. It is funded in part by a challenge grant of $60,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, which will match every dollar invested by other grantmakers.

The Center sees a crisis coming for North Carolina’s nonprofits. A national study found that two-thirds of nonprofit executives across the country plan to retire or leave in the next five years.  The study, by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, also pointed out that many nonprofit leaders are Baby Boomers who founded their organizations and have led them over two or three decades.

Many experienced nonprofit leaders are looking anew at retirement or departure because of crushing stress in the current environment. Raising funds to support their programs is much harder now, as private support remains flat and public funds are cut. This comes at the same time that the need for their programs continues at an even higher level. In North Carolina, for example, 93% of nonprofits have experienced more demand for their services because more people are seeking help. But unfortunately, 58% of those nonprofits have not been able to meet this demand.

“Charlotte has witnessed more than 35 changes of leadership this year at key nonprofits, and this leadership shift has generated considerable concern in the community. We also know that this trend is affecting communities all over our state,” said Emily Zimmern, Chair of the Center’s statewide Board of Directors and President and CEO of Charlotte’s Levine Museum of the New South.  “We cannot have effective, sustainable nonprofits if we don’t have organizations that are prepared to deal with leadership transitions and people ready to move up to leadership positions,” added Zimmern.
“We have a crisis because most nonprofit boards of directors are not planning ahead for these inevitable changes. Planning for succession is challenging for any organization, but a lack of planning can inflict serious damage on a nonprofit when a founder or long-time executive leaves or when an executive departure is sudden,” said Jane Kendall, President of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits.

“Raising the issue of succession planning can be awkward. If the executive raises the issue, board and staff might think they are about to resign. If the board raises it, the executive may feel that they’re being pushed out,“ said Kendall.  “But, if the board and staff learn that planning for leadership transitions is part of a board’s basic responsibility in governing the organization effectively, these fears lessen. Every board member and executive needs to be thinking about this.”

The workshop will be presented in conjunction with the Center’s 2013 Statewide Conference, Nonprofits Making the Difference ( on September 19-20 in Concord.  Board members, chief staff executives, and other staff will be in confidential discussions with other participants who are in their same role. “People need a safe, confidential place to plan for leadership succession and transitions,” said Kendall.

Founded in 1990, the N.C. Center for Nonprofits works to enrich North Carolina’s communities and economy through a strong nonprofit sector and nonprofit voice. It serves as an information center on effective practices in nonprofit organizations, a statewide learning network for nonprofit board and staff members, and an advocate for the nonprofit sector as a whole. It is the leading voice for nonprofit organizations across the state.
The Center will conduct a fall statewide survey of 501(c)(3) nonprofits to learn in detail the status of their own preparation for leadership transitions and to find out what kinds of assistance will best support their efforts in this critical area. The survey will go to board members, chief staff executives, and second-in-charge staff in the Center’s network of 1,630 member nonprofits that serve all 100 counties.

The initiative will also create a range of learning opportunities, including webinars and workshops for staff and board members throughout the year. It will develop toolkits that include sample documents, such as emergency back-up plans for nonprofits to weather short-term absences of a chief staff executive, and policies on succession planning.

For more information about this initiative, contact Trisha Lester, HERE. 919/790-1555, ext. 104.  For more on the Center’s work, visit HERE.

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