Raleigh, N.C. – When Bill Bogdan agreed to serve on the board of the Literacy Council of Buncombe County, he had no idea that the executive director would resign three months later.
This kind of unexpected change at a nonprofit can spell doom for the organization, or it can create new opportunities. It all depends on how the board of directors handles the transition in leadership.
Today the Council received the state’s highest honor from the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. The Nonprofit Sector Stewardship Award recognizes organizations that use exemplary practices in their stewardship of the community’s trust and resources.
“We are honoring the Literacy Council for showing how a nonprofit board should step up when there is a change in the chief staff executive,” said Jane Kendall, president of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. “With two-thirds of nonprofit executives retiring or leaving in the next five years, every nonprofit needs a succession plan and an emergency back-up plan.”
“You never know when the top executive might leave for health reasons, retire, or accept another position. The board of directors also may decide to terminate the executive’s employment,” added Kendall.
The mission of the Literacy Council is to increase comprehensive literacy and English language skills through specialized instruction by trained volunteers. Their vision is “a community in which literacy is highly valued and achievable for all.”
When their executive director resigned, the Literacy Council’s board decided to take the time needed to think carefully about the Council’s purpose, programs, and the organization’s ability to sustain itself for the future. It did not yield to the temptation that many boards feel to hire someone quickly because they are uncomfortable with the uncertainty that comes with an executive transition.
Instead, the Council’s board decided to hire an Interim Executive Director to give them the time they needed for careful planning. They asked Bogdan to take this interim job for six months. Bogdan resigned from the board and accepted this staff role.
The Council then used the approach that David LaPiana describes in “The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution” to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for the Literacy Council’s future. They focused on five areas that are common to nonprofit planning – goals, program strategies, and collaboration with other organizations in the community, as well as the leadership funds and organizational structure required to achieve their goals.
“What is important is that the Council took the next step that is critical for any serious nonprofit – specifying and measuring the actual result it seeks for each of its strategic objectives,” said Kendall. “It also created a dashboard-type report to make it easy for all board and staff members to track their progress.”
Armed with a true roadmap, the board had a clear picture of what they wanted a new executive director to do and what skills and qualities would be needed. It conducted an extensive search facilitated by an external consultant.
The result? The new board hired Ashley Lasher, a member of the Literacy Council’s staff. “They selected her because of her vision, her deep knowledge of the Council’s staff and programs, and her strong reputation and connections in the Asheville community,” said Bogdan.
In light of the anticipated retirement of so many nonprofit executives who are Baby Boomers, the N.C. Center is launching a new initiative called “Executive Succession and Deepening Your Bench.” It will help nonprofits across North Carolina to plan ahead for smooth transitions in their staff and board leadership.
As soon as she was hired, Lasher began reaching out to collaborate with other organizations and to enhance the inter-agency services offered to the adults, children, and families of Buncombe County.
“Our students are often dealing with problems of poverty and homelessness. It’s hard to teach them to read when they are hungry,” said Lasher.
“The N.C. Center for Nonprofits also recognizes the Literacy Council for using other good practices that the community should expect of any nonprofit organization,” said Joni Davis, a board member of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. “Examples are a conflict-of-interest policy that includes all board and staff and an annual evaluation of the executive director’s performance.”
Debbie Motz Bryenton, treasurer of the Council, also points to the organization’s commitment to sound legal practices. She said, “Our executive director attends the legal update workshop that the N.C. Center offers every year. We make sure we are doing things the right way with strong checks and balances.”
Lasher is also using the N.C. Center’s 2013 “Legal Compliance Checklist” to perform an internal audit of its adherence to the laws and regulations that nonprofits must follow.
“We also noted that the Literacy Council of Buncombe County has an independent financial audit each year,” said CPA Walter Davenport, who serves as treasurer on the N.C. Center’s statewide Board of Directors.
“Good financial management is important for all nonprofits, which must continue to earn the public’s trust every day,” said Davenport. “The N.C. Center lifts up these good practices and trains nonprofits to do the right things the right way.”
Davis and Kendall presented the Nonprofit Stewardship Award. Accepting it for Literacy Council of Buncombe County were Ashley Lasher and Board Treasurer Debbie Motz Bryenton.
The other 2013 Nonprofit Stewardship Award winners are Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro and the Down East Partnership for Children in Rocky Mount. The winners receive recognition from nonprofit leaders across the state and from elected officials at the local, state, and national levels.
Prudential Financial, Inc. sponsors the awards. This allows the Center to present each winner with $500 to invest in professional development for its board and staff, and a commemorative work by Durham artist Galia Goodman.
Founded in 1990, the Center 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.
For more information on the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, its statewide conference, or this award, contact Trisha Lester, vice president, at firstname.lastname@example.org
, 919-790-1555 ext. 104, or 919-971-5423 (cell). For more on the Center’s work, visit www.ncnonprofits.org
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