Archive for March, 2013

Interim Executive Leadership – A Powerful Resource in Lead New Jersey’s Executive Transition


“Working with [the Support Center’s interim placement] Richmond [Rabinowitz] was truly a gift. What a great opportunity to have such an experienced professional serve as the interim executive director for our organization. She is smart, focused, full of energy, has great communication skills and best of all a wonderful sense of humor.” 

– Phil Salerno, Lead New Jersey, Chairman, Board of Trustees [during the transition]

When Lead New Jersey (LNJ) needed a new leader they came to the Support Center for Executive Search. After undertaking a thorough organizational assessment, it was clear that an Interim Executive Director (IED) would be key to bridging the leadership gap while the search was conducted. The IED’s goals were clear—strengthen management practices, undertake a review of fundraising and communications and recruit a new class of Fellows and organize a seminar series.

Lead New Jersey’s board looked to the Support Center’s unique pool of highly experienced IEDs for a solution.  All professionals in this talented group have extensive nonprofit management experience with most having been Executive Directors themselves for many years. And equally important, they all have gone through the Support Center’s IED training program which is focused on the special challenges IEDs face. With the help of Julia Lu, the Center’s Director of Consulting, the LNJ Board found the perfect fit for their unique needs–Richmond Rabinowitz. Richmond successfully led LNJ’s operations until the hire of Mark Murphy, the current President.

To learn more about our Executive Search and  IED services contact Julia. And if you are an Executive Director interested in joining our pool of Interims, learn more about our upcoming IED training program


A Passing, a New Pope, and the Opportunities in Nonprofit Executive Search

“It Isn’t the Changes that Do You In”

“It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions,” wrote William Bridges in his ground breaking book titled Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.  “They aren’t the same thing,” he continues, “Change is situational…Transition, on the other hand, is psychological: it is a three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.”

The New York Times, in its obituary of Mr. Bridges (who passed away on February 17th of this year) noted that Bridges’ “…pioneering work on transition transformed the way people think about change…Mr. Bridges had a worldwide impact on educators, psychologists, corporate executives, business consultants, and non-profit leaders, as well as the general public.”

We will always be grateful to Mr. Bridges here at the Support Center/Partnership In Philanthropy (SC/PIP), as his work forms the heart of the way we conduct our Executive Search work.  In contrast to traditional executive search – which can be one-dimensional and misses the depth of opportunities in transition – our focus goes beyond the surface of finding the next nonprofit leader, to insuring that the search process not only secures the right next leader, but also minimizes the risks and maximizes the opportunities available during the transition.

A New Pope – The Change Triggers Transition

In February, quite unexpectedly, Pope Benedict XVI resigned and left a legion of Catholics wondering about future Church leadership and anxious about the future.  Most were surprised, many confused, some were sad and others angry.  William Bridges, of course, would have predicted these reactions suggesting that anger, anxiety, sadness and disorientation are the natural emotions of transitions.  He would, however, have quickly noted that if handled skillfully and thoughtfully, the transition would offer an enormous opportunity for change and growth.

Bridges posed that in each change process we go through three-phases of transition:  1) The Ending – the experience of loss and letting go that triggers a full range of emotional responses; 2) The Neutral Zone – the unknown, where critical re-thinking and a new future can be imagined; 3) The New Beginning – a new identity and new energy can be embraced with a “new sense of purpose that [can] make the change begin to work.”  Clearly these phases were evident in the transition in Rome, as a strong reaction of mixed emotions emerged at the announcement; anxiety with a mix of hopefulness emerged in the “neutral zone” as followers awaited the announcement of new leadership; and hopefulness and energy reigned as Pope Francis greeted the masses on the day of his selection.

While our nonprofit leadership transitions don’t attract quite so much media attention, these phases are clearly at work.  The SC/PIP Executive Search model, which has been developed in collaboration with our grantmaking partners including the Annie E. Casey, JPMorgan Chase, Clark, and Altman Foundations, has been found to reduce the risks of transitions and strengthen organizational health and effectiveness.

Making the Most of an Executive Search

An early study of this approach described by the Annie E.  Casey Foundation in their monograph Capturing the Power of Leadership Change “retrospectively analyzed a five-year capacity building and executive transition initiative conducted by the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation…This research found that these organizations had significant positive outcomes from utilizing the model including increases in executive tenure (from 4.3 to 5.7 years),“healthy” rankings (from 67% to 89%) and direct investment and growth in funding in communities served (from $146.7 million to $418.9 million).”  More recent assessments of this model here in New York, as well as assessments in San Francisco and Maryland show similar results.

Over the past ten years, we have assisted a wide-range of nonprofit organizations in our region helping them get the most out of their search process, significantly minimizing the risks and maximizing the opportunities.  We’re not sure that the Vatican knew of the good work of Mr. Bridges (no, they didn’t call us for assistance).  But it has been reported that the “search and transition team” spent a good deal of time thinking about the management of the transition process and the risks and opportunities they faced going toward the future.  Was the job description redesigned based on a comprehensive organizational assessment?  We’re not sure, but Bridges surely would have recommended it!

Warm regards,


Don Crocker
Executive Director/CEO

Don Crocker

Categories: Uncategorized

Chicken Little Syndrome – Why Stern’s Charity for All Misses the Mark

March 20, 2013 4 comments
A book review by Dr. John Brothers, Senior Fellow at the Support Center

LoadingThis month I had an opportunity to participate in a discussion on HuffPost Live with Ken Stern, the author of the recent book Charity for All.  Having read the book, I had the same reaction to it then as I did when I first read the statement that introduces it on Amazon:

“Vast and largely unexamined, the world of American charities accounts for fully 10 percent of economic activity in this country, yet operates with little accountability, no real barriers to entry, and a stunning lack of evidence of effectiveness. In With Charity for All, Ken Stern reveals a problem hidden in plain sight and prescribes a whole new way for Americans to make a difference.”

Overall, the above premise is flawed in a number of ways, many of them coming from a tired narrative that emerges from someone wishing to make a splash by simply stating that nonprofits are weak and we all should be afraid.  The above statement also provides an ideal framework from which I can explore some of the issues I have with the author’s viewpoints:

  • “Vast and largely unexamined” – In one of the only areas where Stern is correct, the nonprofit sector is “vast” and the 1.6 million nonprofits are part of the fasting growing sector in the United States, equal to the manufacturing industry and accounting for nearly 10% of economic activity in the United States.   The “unexamined” term is where Stern misses the mark.  As an author, like Stern, my book joins more than 50,000 books on Amazon that discusses the nonprofit sector.  The sector has hundreds of network organizations that are dedicated to its development and over 1,500 academic and professional development programs throughout the country are aimed at studying the sector.  This hardly seems like an unexamined sector.
  • “Yet operates with little accountability” –  If you walk into a small to medium-sized nonprofit and look at its requirements to certain stakeholders, the number of accountability filters it has is much more complex than the accountability requirements for “mom-and-pop” businesses, which are largely the typical type of organization in the business sector.  A nonprofit has a board responsibility, an institutional donor responsibility and potentially several others.  An equal business has no responsibility to a governance structure or really to its customer in the same way.  Yes, the board and donor filter may be relaxed in its management of the accountability but at its weakest, it still far supersedes its counterpart on the for profit side, including myself as a for-profit business owner.
  • “No real barriers to entry” – The nonprofit sector looks a lot like the business sector if you look at it from 10,000 feet above ground.  Like the business sector, a heavy majority of the organizations are small to mid-sized groups and also like the business sector, the process to become a legal entity is a relatively easy one.  While putting barriers to business creation is frowned upon in the political and business world, Stern would have us think that charities should be held to a different standard.   Our growth is partly due to the same American creativity and innovation that guides the creation of small businesses and the nonprofit sector should be regarded no differently.
  • “Stunning lack of evidence of effectiveness” – Similarly, if you walk into a nonprofit today and utter the word “effective” or  now “impact” or the dozens of other words relating to being a better nonprofit, you are likely to get a response, many times a strong response.  The answer may be steeped in data, a best practice or a personal story, but in the end the answer lies in a strong or weak organizational process aimed at looking at some sort of impact.    On the business side, the same processes occur but these processes have existed within the business community for a long time, maybe hundreds of years to some effect.  The nonprofit sector has made great strides in the last 5, 10 and 20 years.  In 1992, if you mentioned the notion of “effectiveness” in nonprofit circles, you might have been in unfamiliar territory.  Today, it is common language amongst most in the sector.  Stern’s premise only shows that he fails to understand the long-term arc of the sector and the important sector shifts made in recent and the not-so-recent years.

In the final section of the Amazon statement, it reads “Stern reveals a problem hidden in plain sight and prescribes a whole new way for Americans to make a difference” and unfortunately this is where Stern is the most challenged.  What Stern has done is add to a boring narrative that says “nonprofit bad, my business solution good”.  It is an easy and lazy argument to make and while it gives a greater opportunity to sell books, overall it severely misses the mark while also condescendingly minimizes the sector and pushes unnecessary fears to donors.

The worst is that Stern highlights his experience in the sector, as the former leader with National Public Radio, a position he was pushed out of in 2008.  According to his bio, this was largely the only nonprofit role he has had in his impressive career in government, management consulting and as a lawyer.   While I don’t discredit his experience and regard it highly, his response to the sector through his book is eerily similar to how those unfamiliar with the sector, coming from the business community and consistently saying, “Let me use my experience from outside the sector to change what’s inside it”.   It plays to the flawed theme that other sectors are better and how lucky we are to have their advice rain down from on high.  The term “Charity for All” that entitles Stern’s book is more about the charity he believes he is giving us rather than his book helping charities.  Those on the ground in the sector who are familiar with this narrative and approach, understand that Stern’s book is not about charity at all.

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Empire State Fellows Program: Applications Accepted to April 12th

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is now accepting applications for the second class of Empire State Fellows. Applications for the Empire State Fellows Program must be received no later than April 12, 2013 at 11:59 p.m.  This two-year program is a full-time leadership training program that prepares a new generation of leaders for policy-making roles in New York State government, and encourages professionals from underrepresented groups to join the Governor in creating a New New York.

The 2013 class of Empire State Fellows will serve from September 2013 to September 2015, and receive an annual salary commensurate with experience not to exceed $72,765, plus a generous benefits package.  At the end of the fellowship, a performance review process will identify fellows that will be given the opportunity to continue to serve as leaders in New York State government after completing the program.

Each fellow will work directly with a Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, or other high-level policy maker. Work assignments will offer Fellows unparalleled experience collaborating with senior officials and participating in the policy-making process.  While taking part in the work of government, Empire Fellows will participate in educational and professional development programs that will prepare them to confront the increasingly complex policy challenges facing New York State.

Additional information about the Empire State Fellows Program is available at  If you have specific questions about the program contact

DOS Banner Graphic

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March Tweets

We have been doing a lot of reading this month, and here are a few articles that stood out to us. Please let us know what you found interesting.
It’s time for change, through the Activism’s Future campaign launched by North Star Fund.
A case study conducted by the Nonprofit Finance Fund prompted a few pointers on nonprofit collaborations.
A decision to concentrate on multiyear grants, the Jim Joseph Foundation considers that it’s more effective to achieve goals. What do you think?
Categories: Tweets for Thought