Welcome,” Ramesh NG

August 5, 2019; Star Tribune

Some local reporters are clearly getting much more sophisticated in covering the nonprofit sector and this article about executive transitions from the Star Tribune in Minnesota is a good example of that.

In Grand Rapids, Minn., the Blandin Foundation launched a nationwide search last month for a new CEO ahead of Kathy Annette’s retirement next year after nearly a decade leading the organization. In Minneapolis, the Food Group, formerly the Emergency Foodshelf Network, is looking for a new executive director by September. Twin Cities-based Volunteers of America Minnesota and Wisconsin, which has a $46-million budget, is also doing a national CEO search.

The article discusses a wave of transitions by long-tenured leaders from some of the locality’s most high-profile nonprofits and philanthropies. It considers what might be important in selecting the next generation of leadership.

One of the things we liked about this piece was that there was no alarmist tone. Kelly Smith interviews Jon Pratt of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, who says that the number of transitions occurring is nothing out of the ordinary and there’s a “ready supply” of leaders coming up to take on the challenges of these roles. He also reminds us that salaries in Minnesota’s nonprofits are very competitive.

So, this article strikes a hopeful note, based on looking not for someone cast from the same mold, but one with differences from their predecessor to lead the way forward.

All those discussed in this piece had occupied their roles for a decade or more. Many of their organizations are considering conducting national searches and placing a priority on finding candidates of color for those positions—which means casting a wide net. Some are even thinking about appointing dual-leaders, with the intent of increasing bandwidth in a role famous for its potential to induce burnout.

Lori Thorp, who has been leading the Food Group for almost a decade, says the executive role as it is now structured needs to be examined and that co-leadership structures need more attention. She says it ends up being a “lifestyle choice” rather than a job: “Executive director positions are pretty high burnout in general. As more and more [leaders] over time retire and you think of the millennials coming up, I don’t know they want this kind of job.…there’s a big focus on work-life balance.”

Paula Hart of Volunteers of America agrees: “It’s more than ever a 24/7, buck-stops-here job. There is a challenging time. This is more of a lifestyle than it is a job.” But, she says, it is a great time for new leaders to bring their vitality and ideas to the job.—Ruth McCambridge