Navigating Funder Relationships During Executive Transitions: Part I

September 10, 2019

Dozens of Elevate clients experience executive transitions every year. To help our clients better understand how to engage funders throughout the process, we’ve partnered with Carlyn Madden, a search consultant and former grantmaker based in the Washington, DC region, on a three-part series to highlight the challenges and opportunities of executive transitions.

In this post, Carlyn will help us examine different types of transitions. In future posts, she will share tips and tricks of how to strengthen funder relationships before, during and after executive transitions and we’ll gain insights directly from funders in the Washington, DC region.

Follow along over the next few weeks to learn how you can successfully manage (and even strengthen) funding relationships during an executive transition.


Each nonprofit is unique. Each executive transition will be different.

The grantmaking community has a saying, “Once you’ve met one foundation, you’ve met… one foundation.” I think you’ll agree that no two foundations are alike.

I would argue that the same can be said about nonprofits. For example, one education nonprofit is usually vastly different than its peers – different curriculum and different approaches; different client focus and communities served; different business model and financial resources.

Each nonprofit also has different executives with different tenures, leadership styles, and ideas about how their transition will play out.

According to BoardSource, the U.S. leader in nonprofit governance tools and resources,  “the type of transition influences the challenges involved and the strategy the board will adopt to manage the process…” Identifying the specific type of transition an organization is experiencing can help staff more effectively understand its nuances, manage the transition’s challenges, and capitalize on its unique opportunities.

BoardSource uses an extensive range of tools, resources, and research data to increase board effectiveness and strengthen organizational impact. The graphic below outlines BoardSource’s five classic examples of leadership transitions. Click through to read more about considerations for each type of transition.

Once you understand the type of transition you’re experiencing and start to plan your executive transition, we invite you to consider these questions in context with your unique situation.

  • Has your board approved a succession policy and a plan to handle sudden and planned transitions? Is your nonprofit covered in case of an emergency?
  • Has the board recently reviewed executive’s job description and compensation? What additional financial resources may be necessary to attract a new CEO?
  • How well organized is your nonprofit’s donor database? Is information about the status of different grants and funder relationships easily accessible to the new CEO?
  • Who will manage the organization’s existing funder relationships during the transition? What steps will be taken to maintain communication following the CEO’s departure?
  • Is a stakeholder communications plan in place to reassure funders that the transition will have minimal disruption to the organization’s programs?


Stay tuned for our next post where Carlyn will share some tips to manage funder relationships during executive transitions.

Carlyn MaddenPreparing for your nonprofit’s next executive transition? Carlyn is offering Elevate clients a free phone consultation to help plan your next steps – from succession planning to promising recruitment practices. Learn more about her work at