While hiring a temporary executive may not be on the radar of every nonprofit board member facing difficult decisions during a leadership transition, an interim executive director is a strategic way to provide continuity for day-to-day operations and prepare the organization for the next permanent leader and is worth consideration.
When your nonprofit organization faces a leadership transition, an interim executive can provide a strong link in your succession plan, build stability, encourage team members and support the executive search while continuing the smooth delivery of service to the community.
What is the meaning of interim executive?
Hiring an interim executive is a short-term (usually 9-12 months) strategic choice by the board of directors. It is an intentional decision to appoint an experienced leader to serve as the executive director following a planned (or unplanned!) retirement, extended leave or removal.
With a history going back 400 years to the communities of the Presbyterian church, interim leaders are specialized and independent voices that afford an organization time to process the transition and build consensus around an exciting new vision of what's to come for the community.
What is the role of the interim executive director?
Interim executives step into the leadership role, work with boards and team members to assess the state of the organization, collaboratively intervene in areas of difficulty and prepare the organization time for the permanent successor to lead. In the past, interims might have been considered temporary placeholders to keep the lights on and mail the checks.
We position interims to be much more.
Choosing an interim executive as part of an intentional succession plan is a strategic opportunity to provide stability and ensure productive, transformational management as the organization prepares for its next chapter.
How can an interim executive director help during a leadership transition?
Interim executives skilled in transition management bring best practices to the organizations they serve:
- Facilitative Leadership - Guide the board and staff to confident decisions that impact the future of the organization.
- Data and Diagnostics - Review the current health of the organization's programs and policies to set benchmarks for success in the interim period and beyond.
- Cultural Competency - Embody the organization's values and courageously call out hard truths to meet the community's stated purpose and goals.
- Executive Search and Onboarding - Define the organization's needs and what to search for in the permanent hire. Welcome the new executive with a working knowledge of the organization and a roadmap to success from Day One.
Differences between nonprofit boards vs. corporate boards.
Nonprofit boards are different from corporate boards due to the complex community challenges being tackled by staff members, volunteers and community members working together with their time, resources and expertise.
We know volunteers make extraordinary contributions to your organization at every level. But even if a succession planis in place, volunteer board members may not be prepared to act decisively and wisely during a sudden leadership vacancy.
An experienced, trained interim can assist an organization's senior staff and board in making informed and inspired decisions about what it needs during a time of transition and when looking for a new leader.
Engaging an interim leader will ensure an organization avoids jumping into an ill-prepared search and hiring too quickly or hurriedly promoting from within to fill the position.
With an experienced interim, the organization has time to be thoughtful and intentional in considering internal candidates or moving into a well-informed search process.
The doctor is in.
We have seen significant changes in the expectations and service of the interim executive director since Third Sector Company began working with transitional leadership in 2002. What was often considered a semi-retirement decision for experienced leaders is now becoming an area of skilled specialization for a diverse group of exceptional leaders in nonprofits, associations, and community impact organizations around the country.
At the Interim Executives Academy,we lean into the paradigm of the interim executive as an emergency room physician.
An interim executive, like the ER doctor, must have the expertise to triage immediate, critical needs with compassion and care. After observing, assessing and stabilizing, the responsibility will be handed over to others for the long term.
To make the most of this transitional time, we teach experienced nonprofit leaders the unique skills needed to be incremental change leaders, knowing the critical decisions made during a relatively short-term leadership vacancy can have lasting effects on the organization's reputation and purpose in the community.
Third Sector Company has trained over 400 nonprofit professionals in the core competencies of transition leadership and has served over 800 organizations across the country in their quest to optimally serve their communities. Like an assured and methodical doctor, our interims take organizations through 6 phases:
- Engagement Phase
- Diagnostic Phase
- Planning Phase
- Interventions Phase
- Succession Phase
- Pivot Phase
An interim executive can be your answer to a leadership vacancy. We hope that now that you have learned more about interim executives, you and your board are ready to make a confident decision when your organization faces a transition in leadership.
Founded in 2002, Third Sector Company has become a nationally recognized pioneer in leadership continuity solutions including interim chief executive and chief development officers, succession planning, executive search and professional development.
To learn more about how we can support your nonprofit, contact us today!