Thinking About Philanthropy – And How to Leave It

Posted on by Dodge

David Grant, President and CEO

cowboy-into-the-sunset

Yesterday morning there was an article in The Star-Ledger by Peggy McGlone about my decision to leave the Presidency of the Dodge Foundation next year. The article ended rather abruptly, and when I checked it out online I found out why. Peggy had written a final paragraph which was not in the printed version.

In it, she quoted me as saying, “Leaving a leadership position well is an underappreciated art.” I think it’s an idea worth pondering.

During the past 24 hours, many people have reached out to me via phone and e-mail to extend their best wishes, and that notion of “how to leave” has been an interesting sub-theme in our conversations. When is too early? When is too late? How much notice is the right notice? Who’s in on the decision? Then what happens?

It seems to me there are many of us so-called “Boomers” in particular who are deeply committed to organizations, including some we have founded, who are looking ahead and hoping that when the time to leave comes, which it inevitably will, we can do it in ways that enhance our organizations rather than threaten them.

All of us at Dodge would love to know how some of you are thinking about this issue. What are the variables? What are examples of doing it well? What are the mistakes to avoid? Who has written about this well?

One answer to the last question is Susan Stevens, in her remarkable book Non-Profit Lifecycles. She has a particular interest in founders and how they leave, but her observations about the opportunities and threats inherent in any change in executive leadership are very helpful.

Your own observations?

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4 Responses to Thinking About Philanthropy – And How to Leave It

  1. Tom Werder says:

    Great post, David … and a fascinating topic. I love the new chapter in Susan Stevens book – a great addition to an already great book.

    Having just left an organization after 8+ years in a way that I would descibe as “well” — I appreciate the care and timing of your departure. I thought the emails sent to grantees by the Board Prez and you were informative and imparted a sense of calm and order. I’d love to know how you rolled out the information to the Board and the wonderful staff at Dodge — maybe you’d share some advice about that?

    I was just at the Theatre Communications Group conference and attended a session titled: “Founders, Succession and the Delusional Myth of Retirement” … I wish you were there to join (or lead) the discussion.

    Looking forward to hearing more about your transition throughout this year.

  2. Delrina says:

    I’m just a plain ordinary person, but the article caught my eye and I read on. Without having read the Star Ledger article or other comments, I just have a few comments: If you have done well by your agency and the people it serves, and are well respected and loved, leaving at any time will be positive. It’s also the best time to leave–when you feel led for a good reason. That’s how you know it’s the right time. I believe one mistake to avoid is NOT leaving once you’ve determined that it’s a good time to leave. But obviously, having a hand in deciding who comes in next, and being there during a transition period, is equally important.

  3. Stephanie Jacobs says:

    Fieldstone Alliance just published a book called “Managing Executive Transitions” by Tim Wolfred. Tim is the director of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services Executive Transitions program. Since 1997, the CompassPoint team of transition consultants has helped more than 300 nonprofits identify where they’re going and what type of executive fits that future. “Managing Executive Transitions” is written for boards of nonprofit organizations to help them make smooth executive transitions at their organizations, but there is also very helpful information that is applicable to managing any change within an organization. The book is also very useful for executive directors looking for advice on how to prepare their organizations for the end of their time at the organizations. You can find out more about the book at http://www.managingexecutivetransitions.org.

  4. Hello David,

    For our organization, Ross’ departure and your own upcoming transition is a bit unnerving, as it will mean developing new relationships with your wonderful and caring foundation.

    That said, I admire you both for taking this step when the time is right. I was in a position at one time when an opportunity to move on presented itself. For a number of personal reasons, I was fearful of making the leap, and I’ve regretted it to this day, for it was definitely the right time to leave and chart a new path. Staying beyond that time led to restlessness and missteps within the old organization and, ultimately, I left anyway, with a 10-year tenure tainted by the final year.

    Now, as I am planning to retire in a year or so, I have learned a few things I’d like to share with others: 1) leave when the time seems right, as your instinct is probably correct; 2) if possible, prepare for your next chapter; 3) document processes and procedures and provide information so that your successor can jump in without wasting time learning the “inner game” of the job.

    The contrast between moving towards leaving this job and leaving that other one years ago is profound, and I am grateful to end my career (or move on to who knows what) in this positive state of mind.

    May all go well for you during this time of transition. Thank you for your years of fine leadership, at the Dodge Foundation and in the field.

    Jacqueline Guttman

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