Our Executive Director left us with three weeks notice!! What do we do?
This happens. Perhaps, more often than you might think.
So first take a deep breath and remember: Other organizations have gone through this and you will be able to as well. What should the board be doing?
Some immediate steps:
• Meet with the departing director and executive committee of the board. Develop a plan for their role in the transition. Understand why the director is leaving. Make sure you have all the passwords and confidential information you will need to carry forward after they leave.
• Meet with senior staff leadership to be clear on their roles over the next month. Is there someone internally to take over leadership or will you need interim leadership.
• Meet with staff and let them know what is going on, what the plan is and let them know you will be finding new leadership, but in the meantime, the organization’s work will go on.
• Evaluate and consider whether to hire an interim executive director to provide temporary leadership through the transition. Interims can provide objective perspective on the health of the organization, evaluate internal activities to guide the board in selecting their next permanent executive director, and calm the staff. Professional Interim Directors know what steps to take to keep the organization on a steady footing while the board directs its energy on finding a new leader. [in our experience, interim’s should not be candidates for the permanent role]
• Be careful not to overstep your role as a Board member. Work with senior staff to inquire about what they need in the short term to keep things running smoothly.
• If you’re not really clear on your financial situation, check in with your bookkeeper or accountant and make sure you have adequate funding to meet payroll for the immediate future. Get a sense of how on track you are with your yearly budget.
• Take a deep breath, stay calm and don’t do anything rash.
• Listen a lot.
• Develop your plan for the transition. Can you handle the search for a new director on your own, or do you need help? If you’ve never done a search for an executive director, talk to some people who have previously done a search to be sure you know what is involved and how long it usually takes. [From our experience it usually takes 4-5 months, 6 months is typical]
• Set realistic expectations. Understand that doing an executive search in a time of serious restrictions (like the COVID-19 pandemic) is going to be different. If you’re successful in your search, you’ll probably be hiring someone you won’t have met face to face. Be prepared for different types of discussions. You’ll need a leader who can be flexible in a crisis, but also can plan for the future.
This will be a marathon, not a sprint, so take it step by step. Most organizations have enough depth to keep things going as you go through a transition like this. If you’re not sure what to do, reach out for help.