By Rosie Molinary
For years, CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, one of the nation’s leading management consulting and training firms for nonprofits, has worked on helping its clients handle executive transitions.
Aiming to helping clients treat a search for a new executive director as a opportunity rather than just a challenge, CompassPoint’s executive transitions team offers a range of services designed to help strengthen a nonprofit as part of the search process.
Recently, in searching for its own executive director, CompassPoint faced the challenge of practicing what it preaches.
That effort led to the hiring of Jeanne Bell, the group’s former associate director, as its executive director after a national search and transition process that she says was carried out with “100 percent conviction” by the staff and board of directors.
“We really had the opportunity to walk the talk,” says Bell. “It was so nice to put the practice with the theory. We had a board search committee that was just incredibly dedicated.”
First, CompassPoint hired an interim director to lead the nonprofit while it initiated a national search for a successor to Jan Masaoka, who led the group for 14 years.
This approach is a fundamental point CompassPoint makes when working with other nonprofits on their transitions.
“You don’t follow an iconic leader who finished on Friday with another leader on Monday,” Bell says. “It is just a period to reflect on the transition and legacy while thinking about what kind of leader makes the most sense next.”
Chuck Greene served as interim executive director, allowing the staff to have six months for leadership transition.
Meanwhile, Bell applied for the position and, ultimately, competed against seven finalists.
“I had been intimately involved and deeply devoted to this organization and had no desire to be anywhere else,” she says.
As one of the authors of Daring to Lead 2006, a publication chronicling the viewpoints and experiences of executive directors throughout the U.S., Bell says she is sensitive to CompassPoint’s desire to further develop future nonprofit leaders.
“One of the issues over the last couple of years is concern about the pipeline of future leaders,” Bell says.
The Daring to Lead survey data found that just over half the leaders interviewed said they were actively developing someone on their staff to be an executive director, a number that Bell says was too low.
A priority for Bell is to use CompassPoint’s professional development and consulting services help nonprofits become “leaderful” organizations that leverage everyone’s talents and contributions.
Creating organizations with the capacity to value the whole, Bell says, is just one tool in developing a strong field of future executives.
She says she also wants to develop the technology capacities of CompassPoint’s work so it consistently offers leading-edge services like webinars and podcasting to better assist its clients.