Consultant focuses on interim leadership

David Patterson
David Patterson

PJ staff report

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — From 2005 to 2009, David Patterson served stints of several months each as interim executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County, Twin City Stage, and Prodigals Inc.

Now, the former health-care industry executive has formed a consulting business to provide interim leadership for nonprofits.

While many larger nonprofits tend to have boards that plan for executive succession and may be more prepared for transitions in leadership, Patterson says, it is not uncommon that smaller nonprofits find themselves scrambling when the executive director departs.

And executive directors can leave suddenly for a variety of reasons, including immediate termination by the board for wrongdoing; an unexpected resignation or emergency health issue; or a retirement for which the board has not planned.

Boards also may be forming a new organization that needs an executive director to serve on a temporary basis while the nonprofit is getting started.

Patterson, who most recently served as assistant dean of administration for the schools of business at Wake Forest University, began his interim nonprofit career in 2005 when a community leader serving on the Habitat board asked if he might be interested in filling the executive director’s job on a temporary basis.

The board had hired Sylvia Oberle, the current executive, but she would not be starting for another several months.

That interim job led to a board position for Patterson, who will become the board’s chair in January.

The main challenge for interim executives is to “make sure there’s a connection between the mission as stated and what is actually happening in the daily operations,” says Patterson, who can be reached at 336.608.4848 or

“It is not uncommon,” he says, “to find a little bit of disconnect between what the staff is actually working on and trying to accomplish, and the degree to which the board is informed about what those actions are.”

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