Meatloaf or Tartare?

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    I recently encountered an organization that’s on the cusp of a big change … a change about which its huge constituency is feeling a bit uncertain.

    The agency has never had a chief executive, and that’s part of the new picture that has some supporters skeptical. After all, things have gone okay without one, why spend the money on another administrator?

    Like the Chinese symbol for “crisis,” this moment of change represents both opportunity and danger.

    On the one hand, bringing in a new leader with energy, ideas, expertise, and commitment could take this organization to a new level of efficacy and service.

    On the other hand, just bringing someone in for this new position is stretching the comfort zone of many important supporters.

    So, what’s a Board to do?

    In the lifecycles of a nonprofit organization, it’s critical that the mindset of the board and the chief executive are in sync about where the organization should be heading … and more critically, how fast it should be heading there.

    Many board/executive marriages get off to a rocky start when the board looks to engage the type of leader they “think” they want rather than what they REALLY want or are comfortable with.

    In other words, a board that is in “maintenance” mode – that is, it is seeking to promote the stability of the organization to a nervous constituency – should recognize that bringing on a passionate innovator at that moment in its organizational development may actually impede the agency’s progress.

    The same is true of a nonprofit in which the board is ready to significantly advance the mission, operations, or reach of the organization, but chooses an executive counterpart that is risk- or innovation-averse.

    Like the marriage between the big-time biker and America’s sweetheart, at some point, something’s going to give, and it’s the organization, ultimately, that will suffer from the strain.

    All ground beef is not created equal. Don’t order steak tartare if what you REALLY want is meatloaf … and vice-versa.

    Fare well, and farewell until next week …


    For more resources, see our Library topic Nonprofit Capacity Building.