After many years as a nonprofit leader and more transitions than I care to count, I’ve collected a handful of tips that help me close doors safely and walk with greater confidence across new thresholds.
- Resolve to see transitions as opportunities. The end of any relationship is an opportunity for your nonprofit. Imagine that your next partner will bring new insights, energy and value to your mission, rather than dwelling on the end of a good run.
- Ask: may we call on you? Ask departing employees and board members permission to contact them if you have questions or need advice from them after they leave. Ask: when is the best time to reach you? At what number? My colleague Carol Weisman recommends asking departing board members: “If there is one thing we could ask you to do for this organization after your board term ends, what would it be?”
- Reflect on, don’t presume, lessons learned. It’s easy to assume that you’ve internalized valuable lessons from whatever has just ended. Yet true learning occurs when we make a conscious decision to understand, analyze and apply information. Bring a small group together to brainstorm and write down the lessons learned.
- Close the door gently. Transitions are inevitable. Never slam the door shut when a business relationship closes. A former colleague could re-emerge in a different role in the years to come. More importantly, your nonprofit’s reputation is too important to risk the impression that you hold grudges, are inflexible or lack compassion.
Following these tips isn’t always easy. It’s hard to resist the urge to have the last word with a colleague who caused harm to your mission or was disrespectful to your team. In other instances you may feel that the door was slammed in your face, and your resentment may lead you down the low road. Don’t do it. The most important rule in the world of risk and relationships is the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.
Melanie Lockwood Herman is Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. She welcomes your comments about people and risk or your questions about the Center’s services at Melanie@nonprofitrisk.org or 703.777.3504. The Center provides risk management resources at www.nonprofitrisk.org and offers custom consulting assistance to organizations unwilling to leave their missions to chance.