April 19, 2017; Washington Post
If you’ve ever met a nonprofit founder, they’ll tell you that starting a nonprofit is like having a baby—and it’s very difficult to let it grow up without you there. That’s why it often takes founders years to leave the organization to which they “gave birth.” Frequently, the first executive director to follow the founder has a lot of transitions to work the organization through. It’s tough enough for a new ED, and even more so for one running another business on top of their day job, like Mike Koch.
Koch was hired in 2015 as the first post-founder ED of FreshFarm while still building up the company he co-founded, FireFly Farms, a rapidly growing Maryland-based goat cheese producer. He left FreshFarm in February—a mutually amicable split—to be able to dedicate his time to FireFly.
FreshFarm, a 20-year-old nonprofit with 14 farmers markets in the Washington, D.C., area, has been experiencing financial duress recently. Its 2014 IRS Form 990 shows a loss of $30,000 net income, but a 2015 990 provided by FreshFarm to the Washington Post (not available on its GuideStar page yet) showed the deficit at almost $400,000.
So, the search is on for a new ED—and money. (Nonprofits, rinse and repeat.) Despite the financial lull, the organization is expanding, but to keep up with the growth, they’ll need over $300,000 more this year, all while doing an ED search.
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Maddy Beckwith, FreshFarm’s chief of staff, has taken on the bulk of the added responsibilities. The board is also assisting to help ease the financial crunch. In the meantime, the board says they’re seeking the right candidate, hoping to have the next ED in place by October, the traditional end of the farmers market season.
The next ED will be stepping into an organization that, as Koch puts it, has now been “modernized.” Although Koch admits fundraising may have not been his strongest suit, he is quick to acknowledge the infrastructure changes he made while at the helm: rebranding the organization, relaunching a new website, and updating the board management from a casual to a more formal approach.
Shifting from a founder to the ED that follows can be rough. The nationally known Teach for America picked two co-CEOs to succeed their founder and one of them left two years later. In fact, most of us probably have our own highly personalized stories of short-lived post-founder executive directors.
Regardless, Koch says he left the organization with much affection. In fact, he is co-hosting a fundraising dinner for FreshFarm this week.—Angie Wierzbicki