The departure of an organization’s founder can be challenging time for both the organization and its founder. Any person who has successfully launched a new venture naturally becomes deeply attached to the organization and feels very strongly about its future success and sustainability. Having worked with hundreds of non-profit organizations through transitions of this kind, LeaderFit has developed the following recommendations:

Honor the work of the founding executive director.

Boards should take time to celebrate the achievements of their founder. Beyond focusing on an organization’s future, boards should use the opportunity of an executive transition to also look backward highlighting the role, service and success of its founding executive director.

Set clear expectations of post-departure involvement.

Boards should communicate to exiting founders that once their replacement starts, the departing founder will have no official role in the organization. This means that the outgoing director should not remain for a transition period and should not transition onto the board. Instead, boards should indicate that there may be an opportunity for serving as an advisor or paid consultant after stepping away for a period of time, but that the nature and extent of the involvement will be the purview of incoming executive director.

No role in the search process.

The outgoing executive director should not be directly involved in the search for his or her replacement. Usually, a founder of a non-profit has recruited friends and family onto the organization’s board and these strong friendships can generate mixed loyalties. Long histories and personal relationships can mean that a board will defer to their founding director, possibly sabotaging even the best of intentions and preventing the board from hiring the type of leader the organization needs. LeaderFit has developed a firm policy that if an exiting founder is involved in a search, LeaderFit won’t take on that organization as a client.

Encourage all involved to trust the process.

The advice, input and insight of the exiting founder is invaluable to a board and its search committee. The board should gather the founder’s input, ask the outgoing director to remain involved and supportive and spell out the process that the organization will follow in finding and hiring its new leader. The board should encourage the exiting founder to let the search committee do its work and trust that a thoughtful, purposeful process will generate the best candidates. 

Conclusion

Boards and their organizations need to maintain strong relationships with their outgoing executive directors. By setting clear expectations and boundaries, LeaderFit has enabled many boards to garner the advice and goodwill of their exiting founder while simultaneously setting up their new executive director for success.