Welcome | Winter 2002

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Welcome to the Winter 2002 issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly. It’s Christmas week and we’re racing our press deadline to get this issue to you by the New Year. For most of us, 2002 has been a time of immense challenge and substantial adjustment; 2003 promises more of the same.

Appropriately, this issue is built around the general theme of transitions—beginnings, endings and changes—of various types. 

Contemplating the nature of change we recall that the mythical figure of Janus, the Roman god of gates and doorways symbolized the transition from one place, or state, to another. Linking the notion of change to the image of doorways between expectation and experience, Janus (for whom the month of January is named) was always depicted with two faces: one face anticipates the future, while the other is simultaneously reflecting on the past—recognizing that good beginnings are frequently founded on good endings.

First, we take up the thorny topic of executive transition in the nonprofit sector. As Tom Adams, a specialist in executive transitions and guest editor for this issue, insists, “if managed intentionally and proactively, transitions can serve as pivotal moments, contributing to the long term health and well-being of the organizations in question, as well as the sector as a whole.” Rather than dreading its inevitability or dwelling on the abstract, he encourages us to consider the surprising number of opportunities unleashed by change.  

Adams spent many hours guiding NPQ’s editors in conceptualizing the theme, assembling the data, identifying the authors, and editing the featured essays. His depth of content-experience and enthusiastic leadership in this area proved critical to generating a range of on-point and thought-provoking original pieces by contributors Tim Wolfred, Ted Ford Webb, Denice Rothman Hinden, and Paige Hull.

Wolfred situates the transition planning process within the board of directors, emphasizing that their complete engagement and involvement is essential. He explains their various responsibilities and roles and as he states, “the real work is more complicated than simple recruiting.” Ford Webb observes that the history of internal political dynamics and personalities shape most organizations—like subplots of long-running soaps—especially at the point of selecting new leadership. He explains how the information underlying the politics can benefit the search criteria and the selection of the next leader. And Adams clarifies responsibilities and expectations of out-going executive directors, especially long-term executives or founders, as they approach their own transition.

Finally, the research team of Rothman Hinden and Hull tells us that, “an era of transitions is looming as the baby-boomer generation—many of whom founded organizations 20 to 30 years ago—reaches retirement age.”  

They also remind us that much of our current knowledge about leadership transition is founded on an impressive sector-wide knowledge base. For over two decades, the authors explain, visionary practitioners, researchers and philanthropists across the country took the lead on investigating this issue within their own networks, linking their findings to work completed elsewhere. George Knight, former executive director of Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, was among the early pioneers of leadership transition planning. Similarly, the Baltimore Community Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund in San Francisco, the W.F. Kellogg Foundation, and the David & Lucile Packard Foundation have been notable champions for these efforts from the philanthropic community.

On a slightly different tack, Lester Salamon steps back for a long view of the more gradual transformation experienced by the sector as a whole over the last twenty years—largely in terms of shifts in its revenue base and the implications for mission and practice. His observations emphasize the sector’s resilience in coping with change, adding a cautionary note on the risks imposed by the larger social environment.

Continuing this theme into the back of the book, “Spinning Straw into Gold,” by Ruth McCambridge, begins the dialogue on how organizations all over the country are adapting to serious cuts in revenue. We thank the organizations profiled for their willing and candid examination of conditions and thinking underlying difficult decisions. This topic is the centerpiece for on-line discussion at the NPQ Learning Center): we will continue a running commentary on developments as they unfold over the next few months.

Similarly, social scientist Gar Alperovitz takes a moment to address the “macro-question” of how we respond to recent shifts in our political circumstances—the forces, policies and trends likely to shape opportunities for change and development in the next period.

Finally, while Lester Salamon debunks the conventional wisdom about the “nonprofit wage-deficit,” Susan Tenby challenges us to think about the message we send to the one-in-five disabled Americans for whom our Web pages remain all but inaccessible.