Today we welcome Ken Goldstein to our Nonprofit Leaders Network podcast. Ken shares with us some of the interesting challenges he has faced when serving as an interim executive director.
Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies since 1989. Since founding Goldstein Consulting in December of 2003, Ken has served half-a-dozen organizations as an Interim Executive Director, managing nonprofits through transitions, mergers, and turn-around’s. Ken has also facilitated strategic planning processes, taught fundraising and nonprofit management workshops, raised over $4 million in grants, and performed other contract consulting work.
His many years of senior management experience include: Executive Director of Sustainable San Mateo County, Assistant Director of EHC LifeBuilders, Silicon Valley Director of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, Director of Online Community Development for HandsNet, and Bay Area Director for Benevolent. He has also served on the Boards of Directors of Future Families, and Habitat for Humanity Santa Cruz County.
Ken is currently the Executive Director of Recovery Café San Jose in addition to his consulting practice. He earned a BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz and a MPPA (Master of Public Policy and Administration) from CSU Sacramento.
You can listen and enjoy the full discussion with Ken Goldstein in our podcast, but here are some of the highlights.
Keeping the Staff You Want to Keep: Communication is the Key
During a merger or in any other type of interim situation with an organization, staff will become concerned about their future with the organization. Will their position be eliminated? Or will they be replaced as the result of a merger of staff? Will there be new management and how will that affect their working environment? So during these times, it is very important to keep communication channels open and share as much information as you can as frequently as you can. You need to gain people’s trust quickly.
The biggest danger is that you could lose your best staff members, not the expendable ones. Because they are your best, they are definitely hirable. And if they are insecure about the situation, could start looking for work elsewhere and leave. If you do think that you’re going to be trimming staff, you don’t want to lose your best people. This also applies to your board, funders – any key personnel to the organization.
Know Where It’s Safe to Vent
Ken discussed the importance for an interim leader to present a pleasant, unworried front so as not to create any undue stress amongst staff, board members, funders, clients – any stakeholders. Certainly when you’re meeting people, you don’t want that worry and concern to overpower any new relationship.
So where is it safe for an interim director to deal with his or her own stress? Ken’s answer is to have a good relationship with the board chair – the most important relationship in any organization. Hopefully that’s someone with whom you can shut the door, let down your hair, be honest with each other and get through it together. If you’re in a position where you feel you can’t be open and honest with the board chair, you have a problem. That ED-board chair relationship, whether interim or permanent, is vital to keeping any organization on a sound track and moving forward.
As an Interim, Identify What Can Wait
One of the more difficult situations for an interim leader, Ken explains, is setting priorities. As an interim leader, you have to choose your priorities based on what you feel you have time for, and sometimes that means leaving certain things or items for the next person. That’s always a challenge. Interims are often not hired to work a 40-hour week, typically just 2-3 days per week. So there are some things that you just have to let slide. This can put you in the position of second-guessing yourself – maybe we did have the time to do that, or maybe we should have done this sooner. While it is often an exercise in frustration, second-guessing yourself can be productive if you approach it as part of the learning process – what you can bring to the next assignment – and not as a beat-yourself-up exercise. If you are an interim who is only supposed to work 3 days a week, you have to take care of the most high-level tasks to keep the organization running.
Even as a full-time director, you may not have the budget to staff all the positions you need. So you’re the executive director, the development director, the finance director, the personnel director, etc. You’re wearing four or five hats, and you’re not going to be the absolute best at any of them. You can easily burn the candle at both ends. You need to just do the best you can, get advice where you can and know there’s going to be more to learn and things might slip through the cracks. It’s just a fact of life.
Nonprofit Management is a Team Sport
Nonprofit management is a team sport. It’s not a solo sport. Any kind of proper business management is a team sport.
“I don’t know anyone who says they’re doing it all themselves and they don’t need any help . . . (If they do, they are) probably a little bit delusional.”
Words of Wisdom: Connect with Others
Ken’s closing words of wisdom for those new to a nonprofit leadership role is to talk to everybody you can. Take time out to listen to a podcast, read blogs from various nonprofit leaders, go to conferences. You go to conferences not just for what’s on the official agenda and program, but also to meet people, to network. You can learn so much from others’ experiences.
Don’t take it all on yourself. Don’t think that you have to be perfect from day one and that no one is there to help you. Other nonprofit leaders love to help new people to the field. That’s one thing great about what we do, is that people are here because they care, because they give a darn, and that extends to welcoming new people to the field. So take advantage of people’s openness in whatever meetings, conferences, etc. you can go to, and keep learning. Learning is a lifelong process.