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Leaders Plan for an Encore

Posted Jul 22, 2014 12:05 PM
Lots of nonprofit leaders are retiring, but a majority plan to stay active as volunteers or consultants. Learn what resources are available to help plan for this "second stage" of life.

It seems that every week we hear about an executive director who is retiring.  While much has been written about the risks of the high rate of transitions—particularly for organizations losing their founders—there is lots of good news too.  Recently we published the YNPN survey results which showed that young professionals in our state are eager to take on leaderships roles. (Although they worry about the pay and wish they had more training, mentoring, and support.)

Betsy Lieberman, former executive director of Building Changes sent us the article “New Roles, Few Rules: Planning for Purpose Beyond Position” that reports that retired executive directors are often continuing to contribute to the community in a wide range of ways. This report is the third in a series from the Life After Leadership Project.  The project has conducted interviews, surveys, and focus groups with over 600 participants since 2012.

Like Americans everywhere, most nonprofit leaders have rejected the traditional idea of a retirement that is solely focused on leisure. While they are excited to have greater balance in their personal lives, 97% of those interviewed planned some type of “encore.” Most plan to continue contributing in part-time roles, as consultants and coaches, or as community volunteers.

The 2012 Social Sector CEO Trends report from the University of Washington documented that 59% of leaders of nonprofits, philanthropy and volunteer service organizations were over 55.  Many of those in their 60s, who are becoming eligible for social security and Medicare, report an increasing interest in stepping down from the overwhelming demands of leadership. However, most confessed to being concerned about a loss of identity when they retire and many report that they need to continue to work in some capacity because of insufficient retirement income.

And the process for most is not straightforward. Even those who found a “second stage” reported to some turmoil in the process of finding their next expression of their values and priorities. Planning can play a big role in preparing for or easing the transition to life after leadership. But it is important to be prepared to modify your plan as new interests and opportunities emerge. The study reported that leaders found themselves taking advantage of life coaches, financial planners, and peer support less than they thought they would, but having some of these resources identified can be helpful. Some of the advice and recommendations mentioned in the report are actions leaders need to take before they retire:

  1. Develop a financial plan
  2. Work with life coach
  3. Develop a strong peer support network
  4. Become informed about personal change management processes so you are prepared to address challenges you may face.
  5. Develop a (flexible) plan for the months after your transition

If you are beginning to think about your transition–or know someone who is—consider Creating a Roadmap for Leadership Succession. In these two half-day sessions, led by Betsy Lieberman, with a small group of executives, you will learn how to create a roadmap for your own transition and a succession plan for your organization.  Also visit Leadership Transition and Succession in the best practices section of the Resource Directory.  You will also find information on Hiring an Executive Director, Using Interims and on Leadership Development.