At some point or another in an organization’s life cycle, there is bound to be a leadership transition. Whether the top leader decides to retire after many years of service or suddenly resigns, this transition will have an impact on the fundraising of the organization.
Leadership change can create a sense of instability and uncertainty for donors, especially if they have had a personal relationship with the leader. However, while they can be seen as adverse events, particularly under contentious transitions, leadership changes can be extremely positive, especially if a long-term leader has been in their position for many years.Changes in leadership can often provide new momentum and contribute fresh energy to fundraising efforts, but they need to be positioned that way. Click To Tweet
There are many moving parts in a leadership transition, and communication with the organization’s key stakeholders is crucial during this time. Successful organizations are able to connect with their donors and inspire a sense of confidence in them as the transition takes place.
Ten Steps that Will Reassure Your Donors
Below are some steps that I recommend for organizations undergoing a leadership transition (Tips for communicating during this time are further expanded on in a related article.):
- A competent and communicative interim leader and/or leadership team should be appointed by the Board of Directors to provide a sense of continuity to key stakeholders and to ensure day-to-day operations continue in the absence of the previous leader. These interim leaders must resist making wholesale changes during the interim, as the new leader will bring with them their priorities and vision.
- Develop a communication plan for donors at all levels. Donors must be kept informed of the transition process and impending search. Use in-person strategies for your top donors. Other segments of donors may be kept informed through electronic and traditional mail.
- If the transition is contentious, a plan must be developed around key messaging so as not to stall or halt fundraising momentum, particularly if the organization is undergoing a major campaign effort.
- Develop a schedule of meetings with key donors during this transition time. These meetings will allow for investments in the vision of the organization. Continue your fundraising pipeline and determine how to handle your transitioning leader’s portfolio.
- Determine if you can use this as a fundraising “moment” to leverage the outgoing leader’s “personal capital” around a beloved leadership legacy, perhaps by creating a special fund in their honor.
- Ensure that the fundraising staff provides an ongoing point of contact until a new leader is on board. Fundraising must continue during this time. Don’t let up on campaign momentum.
- Increase your pace of communication with donors during this period. Advise them first of the change, tell them who the interim contact will be, and describe the transition plan.
- Emphasize everyone’s importance to the organization. Share the impacts made by other members, not just leadership.
- Once a new leader has been identified, communicate this promptly to donors and make introductions when possible. Develop a new leader transition plan. When a new leader has been chosen, this becomes a pivotal moment for the organization. You want to use this moment as an opportunity to begin building donor relationships with the new leader and to build confidence, comfort, and continued loyalty to the organization.
- Schedule a series of “meet and greets” or events with top donors and have the new leader communicate his or her vision with other segments of donors using electronic and traditional mail. Introduce the new leader to the various organizational constituencies.
While leadership transitions are never relished, they can be expected as sure as change is change.
It can be assumed that leadership transitions will have an impact on fundraising during this time, and in some ways, it can be harmful. It can be expected that fundraising may be delayed, donors may be confused, publicity may be mixed, and morale may take a slump. Still, with the right transitional leadership and a plan for communicating with donors, these risks can certainly be mitigated.
Robin Cabral, MA, CFRE, MFIA serves fundraising professionals and executive directors who are new to fundraising and want to excel in their position or advance in their career. She provides proven fundraising strategies, tactics, and tools through coaching, training, and content for fundraising success.