frequently asked questions
Why do we need both a Transition Consultant and an Interim ED?
How long does this full transition process take? Don’t funders want us to have a new executive in place immediately?
How much does a three phase transition process cost? And where are we supposed to get the money for it?
We only have enough funding to hire a Transition Consultant for one or two phases of the work. Can that work? Which phase is most important if we can only afford one?
Q. Why do we need both a Transition Consultant and an Interim ED?
A. Finding a consultant who specializes in transition and search to guide the search for the next permanent executive is the typical first step taken by the Board when an executive director is departing. The consultant begins by mapping out the transition work plan with the Board. If the departing executive has already left, a first piece of the plan is to find an interim ED. The consultant performs a quick assessment with the Board about the most pressing needs that a temporary leader will need to address and then refers 2 or 3 interim executives from a pool of prescreened interims for the Board to interview.

The interim ED and transition consultant work together throughout the transition. The interim handles the day-to-day operations and the upgrading of systems that may be needed. The transition consultant works with the Board, staff and interim ED to clarify agency strengths and weaknesses and clarify the vision for the organization. This leads to a clear understanding of what qualities and experience are sought in the next executive to lead the organization to it preferred future.

The labor intensive work of the search is handled by the transition consultant, so that the interim ED can remain focused on building the capacity of the organization during the time of transition. In addition, the assessment process possibly will point to specific governance issues that need addressing; the transition consultant can provide specific recommendations and include those strategies in the Transition Plan.

Research conducted by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services reveals that agencies who have employed both a transition consultant and interim ED have thrived most under their new leadership.
Q. How long does this full transition process take? Don’t funders want us to have a new executive in place immediately?
A. Let’s answer the second question first.

Historically, grantmakers have kept the pressure high on organizations going through a leadership change. Not knowing the direction the organization might be going in the future has led many a foundation and corporation to put your proposal “on hold” until the next executive is in place. More recently, due to an effort to educate the foundation field about the perils of not supporting a more thoughtful process that allows grantees to hire for the future rather than rushing to hire for the present, many grantmakers are now supportive of the ETM process. They recognize the potential loss of their past investments if the incoming executive’s tenure is foreshortened due to unresolved transition issues or a lack of capacity. They now see the wisdom in investing in the unique capacity building opportunity of leveraging the leadership change by supporting, or at least not backing away from, an organization using the three-phase transition model.

The first part of your question deserves more attention.

The short answer is it takes approximately 4 to 6 months to prepare an assessment, position announcement, recruit, screen and hire an executive. Addressing the full array of transition issues that may arise as staff, board and community members adjust to the change in leadership is a larger task. The timing of a full transition, of course, can vary based on the type of transition facing the organization. Different transition scenarios bring different challenges. Your organization is facing one of five types of transitions: a start up; a turn around; a replacement; a “sustain success;” or a founder or long-term ED transition.

The transition begins the moment that the Executive Director announces his or her departure to the Board or the Board takes action to relieve a CEO of their duties. The transition is not complete until 12 months after the next executive has taken up their duties. This is not just a search and replace process. This is a process that supports the readjustment to change that is so crucial to the success of that change.

Q. How much does a three phase transition process cost? And where are we supposed to get the money for it?
A. Costs for a full transition process can range from $15,000 to $25,000. This is considerably less than the cost of a search firm with substantially more benefit.

The compensation for an Interim Executive Director comes from the line item in the budget for the Director’s salary and benefits.

As more and more grantmakers become informed about the benefits that their grantees can reap from utilizing executive transition management, more are setting aside grant dollars specifically for transition costs. They see it as a protection of their investments.

Leadership Transitions assists your organization in approaching current funders or other pooled funds for a transition grant.

Q. We only have enough funding to hire a Transition Consultant for one or two phases of the work. Can that work? Which phase is most important if we can only afford one?
A. If the Board has several volunteers available who are willing to commit from 200-300 hours of work towards the search process, then it is possible for the Board to conduct the recruitment and screening phase of the work.

It is highly advantageous to the organization to have an outside transition consultant to conduct the organization assessment to prepare for the search. This outsider’s perspective reflects back to the board and staff a “snapshot” of the agency. This assessment informs the profile of the candidate you are seeking as a leader. So if you have only enough money to hire a consultant for one stage, the preparation phase is the most important.

After the candidate profile and position announcement are prepared, the organization might choose to use the transition consultant as a coach to the board, if they are to follow through with the search.

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