What Are We Doing About It — Executive Transitions

Surveying and interviewing our grantees confirmed that many leaders of social justice organizations, particularly those who are women and/or people of color, lack the support they need to succeed during executive director transitions. At Veatch, we are committed to following and lifting up these guiding principles: 

Hold funding stable during executive transitions whenever possible. 

Stability in funding is one of the most important things for an organization going through a leadership transition, according to the executive directors who participated in our focus groups. At Veatch, we value general operating and multi-year grants because we know our grantees are waging campaigns for the long haul — the structural changes our grantees are seeking to enact in the world will not occur overnight. While we have long recognized the importance of this funding approach, and have advocated for it, we now also more specifically recognize the importance of steady funding during leadership transitions. We are committed to continuing our work to reduce unintended bias. 

Provide financial support and technical assistance during executive transitions, as much as possible.

Executive transitions create new needs. These are the most important ones according to survey respondents:

Technical Assistance. Leadership transitions often result in other staff members assuming different positions in the organization as well, transitions which require additional technical support—such as coaching and development and managerial skills training. Funders and other organizations sometimes provide this type of technical assistance in kind. As one director told us:

(Some funders) provide lists of potential consultants that have worked for their other grantees and let you scope them out—but they don't say you have to choose from this list. We developed the scope and contract and they made the grant. This is really helpful.

Executive Director Peer Cohorts. Peer support groups with other executive directors are a significant source of technical advice, networking, mentoring, as well as free expression and troubleshooting with peers — our grantees tell us that these spaces are greatly appreciated by new directors. Identity-based cohorts were particularly appreciated by more than a third of white women and over 40% of women of color. Some large organizations have recently created cohorts of this type. As one director told us:

As a director, there's no oversight day to day—it's just helpful to know someone's going to ask me if I had that tough conversation, if I've moved that staff situation forward, or if I approached the board or a donor with a difficult thing. And I found that to be really, really helpful.

Supporting grantees through transitions requires resources and planning. Organizations both large and small are increasingly creating responsible transition plans — and asking funders to support them. 

At Veatch, we provide additional financial support during executive transitions in the form of minigrants, as our budget allows. We  also signal to grantees and other partner funders that transition plans are – and should be – well received by funders. Lastly, we recognize the importance and complexity of transitions in conversations with grantees, and facilitate networking and access to transition-specific funding possibilities, technical assistance providers, and other social justice leaders who might have lessons learned to share.

Give space to leaders to lead — but support them where needed.

Our grantees prioritize the development of community leaders at every level of their organizations — many of the directors of Veatch grantees, in fact, start as entry level staff or even members, but are eventually supported by their organization into directorship roles. Supporting groups who conduct this type of long-term investment in their staff and membership is a cornerstone of the Veatch funding model, but it’s important to acknowledge that some of these new directors within our grantee network won’t come to the position with the same level of relationships and experiences expected of leaders within the broader non-profit community. Veatch values leadership development, recognizes this process takes time, and is committed to facilitating, expanding and strengthening the networks of our grantees whenever possible or appropriate. 

Advocate for the adoption of these policies in the wider philanthropic community.

Within our broader philanthropic community, Veatch is a strong proponent of our long-term, general-operating support funding model. We know that progress is not linear and real change can take many years if not decades.  And we also trust our grantees to do what they do best: lead. Given the resources and the space they need to take action, our grantees justify our funding model time and time again by bringing about substantive changes for the communities they serve. What we've learned from our grantees about executive transitions gives us yet another reason to promote our general operating, long-term funding model within the philanthropic community — doing so helps reduce bias against, and increases support for, directors who are women and people of color as they assume leadership within their organizations. 

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