Readying a Nonprofit Organization for Change

Judy Alnes

Several years ago my Board of Directors hinted that they were worried about my retirement. They rightly recognized that the Board has a huge job to do when an executive director lets go of the helm.  To mitigate their worries, I promised that I’d give them a year’s notice when I was ready to head into my next adventure. So, last November, after several months of introspection, I gathered up my courage and told the Board I’d be leaving in late 2016 after 19 years as executive director of MAP.

Nothing is easy about deciding to leave a job you love. And if the months since the announcement are any indication, the ensuing phases of the process are complicated, too. My accompanying emotions run the gamut, too, from a dizzying sense of possibility to a poignant sadness and sense of loss. Organizationally, this is a time of great “readying for change.” Our Board is using this time to determine whether there is a merger partner for MAP that could propel our mission more powerfully.  We’re doing this first, and preparing to conduct an executive search, if needed. Indeed, MAP’s strategy consultants are busy helping other organizations do exactly the same thing – planning for succession and exploring strategic alliances and restructuring.

Whether we merge or seek a new executive director, I’m mindful that all of our internal systems need to be dressed in their best for the upcoming transition. I’m seeing MAP from a different perspective. What would a new set of eyes think about how we’ve developed our own infrastructure? Everything from performance appraisal processes to marketing strategies to databases and KP duty capture my attention.

Professionally, I’m reflecting on the deep and certain relationships that I have with so many colleagues at MAP and in the community. I treasure the collegial relationships my work has afforded me. I am too smart to think that these relationships will remain unchanged after I leave MAP. Yet, I want to wrap up each one of them to carry them forward into my undetermined future. “Surely, I’ll still want to eat lunch,” I tell a long-time work friend.

People ask me about my retirement plans. I’m only a little sheepish when I reply that I plan to work less and play more. I do know that my departure has awakened my interest in myriad things that can be only be explored when my weeks and months and years are not anchored by the rhythm of work. Audits, board meetings, budgets and program reviews will all be in the past. I might still be working for MAP on a consulting project or two, but I am being pulled to explore new dimensions of my life. My evening Google searches tell the story of the interests that I’m eager to develop; Northern Lights, forests, stars, rocks, birds, and curries are all “trending.”

At the same time, the pace of  our work remains fierce.  Whether we merge or find a new executive director, the daily beat moves forward and requires my full attention and leadership. I have only the briefest moments to cherish the sweet successes and challenges that each day brings. And, I’m remembering Robert Frost, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”

Staff Author

Judy Alnes