When is it Valuable to Engage an External Interim Executive Director?

An executive director-level change in any organization can be disruptive to staff and board members. Uncertainty looms large and with the uncertainty comes anxiety.  With anticipation and planning, such an important change doesn’t have to be painful.

Organizations with a current strategic plan can ease this transition, especially if the strategic plan includes a succession plan for the executive director.  If your organization lacks a succession plan, especially when confronted with the sudden loss of your executive director, it can be traumatic, but it doesn’t have to be.  In fact, it can be an opportunity.

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The Complementary Roles of Executives and Governing Boards

Sometimes, even the best boards and seasoned executive directors clash and have trouble  staying in their respective “responsibility lanes” as the organization’s leadership team.  An excellent example might be when boards get directly involved with selecting and overseeing staff when they have a successful chief staff executive for such purposes.  Why might a board involve themselves in what is clearly a management responsibility?  Simply.  It’s what they are familiar with, despite the fact that it’s a responsibility they can and should delegate.

Certainly, if the working relationship between the board and executive director is noticeably broken, that situation should be addressed as soon as possible.  An outside management and governance coach is probably worth bringing in.  Even if everything is working smoothly between the board and the executive, an annual refresher can help keep the working relationships strong and the organization running smoothly for the coming year.

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The Four Pillars of Successful Boards

Board work is like any other team endeavor:  “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships” (Michael Jordan).

Boards are teams and how they decide to engage with one another to fulfill their responsibilities determines how successful they will be.  This article is about four pillars of successful boards based on my nearly 40 years of experience supporting and serving on nonprofit governing boards.

The four pillars are offered as a framework for success, not a prescription to be applied to fix an acute problem .  It is entirely possible for two different boards to implement these four pillars different ways, but still encompass the fundamentals of each pillar as applied to their culture and situation.

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AMC Managed Organizations Are More Stable Than Standalone Organizations – Withdrawn

In September of 2019 we published the results of a study with the title: “AMC Managed Organizations Are More Stable Than Standalone Organizations”. We are withdrawing that study because we learned of an error in our analysis. In short, there were no differences in the frequencies that standalone organizations and AMC-managed organizations change chief staff officers or their office locations.

We wish to thank Nick Bundra, COO of Management Connection, a fellow AMC in Southern California for pointing out our error.

We remain open to all review and critique of our research projects. We are motivated to present important knowledge about association management choices for membership-based organizations.

Leadership Boost for an Underperforming Organization


The board of directors (board) of the California Association of Flower Growers & Shippers (CalFlowers) had become a management committee where the board president, a volunteer member of the board, functioned as the de facto chief staff executive (CEO is the title they use in place of executive director).  The arrangement had been in effect for about eight years.  Shortly following the 2008 to 2010 recession the association had a revenue shortfall and decided to forego hiring a CEO to manage their staff and operations.

In 2012 the association had corrected their revenue challenges and realized they could afford to hire a CEO.  In that same year they also engaged an association expert to evaluate their association and future needs.  The consultant’s assessment was somewhat grave.  He concluded that the association did not reach the thresholds for even simple adequacy in any of the 10 performance areas he used.

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M3AAWG – Foundation for Growth


The Messaging Malware Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group (M3AAWG) had a very uncertain future when it held its first official meeting in May 2004 in Washington, D.C.  At that first meeting were the five founding members and a number of invited guests from email service providers and their network carriers.

The founding board retained Jerry Upton as their executive director, an experienced industry executive with enough association experience to know that he needed a solid operations and headquarters base to have any chance of growing the organization.

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Does Board Training Really Matter?

Is peak performance important? Can training and ongoing assessments of performance make a difference in outcomes? Absolutely yes to both questions. Board training does make a difference. It’s almost absurd to even ask these questions, yet one study found that more than half of board members in a national survey stated that their respective organizations did not effectively prepare them for board service.[1]

The above referenced study is both useful and interesting. It’s useful because it provides evidence about how board members experience their time and contributions serving on nonprofit boards of directors. It’s interesting because it largely confirms what most experienced executive directors know from practice. The simple truth is that every nonprofit board can have the onboarding and training they need to improve their contributions and their satisfaction serving in these important roles.

[1]     Association and Nonprofit Boards:  Maximizing Effective Service; © 2017 Heidrick & Struggles:  Project team:  Julian Ha, Bill Hudson, and David K. Rehr

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ABVLM Switched to L&M to Grow


The American Board of Venous & Lymphatic Medicine (ABVLM), previously known as The American Board of Phlebology, was founded in 2007 and experienced a few years of good growth for a new medical board.  However, in 2011 when the board of directors assessed their then-current management and operations solution against the growth challenges they faced to mature the organization, they knew they needed to make a change.

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Are Priorities an Issue for Your Board?

If you are experiencing low board engagement, even in a small subset of board members, it’s more often that board commitment is not a high enough priority for success.

There are a variety of steps you, as the executive director, can take to address the matter of making board member commitment the right priority for success.  Of course, what specific steps to take depends on a number of cultural factors.  This post does not attempt to address culture and the myriad contextual factors that may exist in a specific organization or situation.  But there are some general approaches that have proven useful to me.

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COVID-19 Infection Rates in SF Bay Area Counties

Updated November 29  2020 – As of November 24th the total number of positive tests for COVID-19 in the 6 Bay Area counties reached 120,174. The 6-County daily rate of change was 0.83% (It’s been between 3.29% and .21% since July 14 – the results of the past week doubled over the previous week – for the 3rd week in a row!. We began a new spike in the last week of October!  This rate for the more than 6.6M population of the 6-county area is 1.80%; this is among the lowest for metropolitan infection rates in the country. We’re still in the rainstorm and cannot put away our umbrellas without severe consequences!

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