When a pastor leaves a congregation, the board members are faced with the challenge of finding a new leader for the church, making sure that the day to day business of the congregation gets done until the new pastor arrives and helping the members to remain calm during a time of uncertainty.
The same is true for the approximately 300 other nonprofit organizations chartered in the Forest Park/Oak Park/River Forest area which are not churches. Forest Park resident Bruce Jensen has a total of 40 years of experience as a parish pastor, a Presbytery executive, a nonprofit executive director and a consultant in guiding nonprofit organizations through the uncertainties which arise during the “in between” time after a leader leaves and before a new one comes on board.
Jensen recently upgraded his skill set by completing the Interim Executive Training program with the Executive Service Corps of Chicago (ESC).
According to ESC, nonprofits can be a revolving door. More than half are expected to lose their executives in the next four years, either by moving on through retirement.
The way the program works is that a nonprofit organization like the Progress Center or Lutheran Child and Family Services, both on Madison St., can call ESC when their executive director leaves, and ESC will give them up to three names from its pool of trained consultants like Jensen which the organization can interview and then hire one of them to help them get through the transition time.
Michael Leonard is Jensen’s co-consultant in Nonprofit-Partners and went through the ESC training with him. He explained that executive directors leave organizations for a variety of reasons: 1) retirement, 2) they are asked to leave, 3) a new job opportunity. “Each situation is different,” he explained.
Sandra Wilcoxon, an Oak Park resident who went through the ESC training and certification process with Jensen and Leonard, explained that during the transition one nonprofit might need to have their financial organization realigned or to get help with tricky personnel issues and “clean house a little bit.” “Sometimes you’re dealing with a financial crisis,” she said, “and sometimes you help an organization deal with the reality of whether they need to close down.”
Leonard added that especially when an executive director leaves suddenly, the board and the staff can have a lot of uncertainty as to what is going to happen. “The idea of having an interim director,” he said, “is to provide stability, to allow the board to catch its breath and take a thoughtful approach to what kind of person they want to hire on a permanent basis.”
Jensen said that nonprofits behave differently than for profit organizations like a retail stores or a manufacturing companies, which means that nonprofit directors, or in his case interims, need different skills. “Nonprofits need to be more than a business,” he explained, “because what drives them is not the profit motive but the passion for a particular cause or need.”
That is why, he said, nonprofits need to be run like a good business, but at the same time recognize that they are unique. For example, in a store on Madison St. the person receiving the service pays for what they are getting, whereas in a nonprofit often those paying for the services provided are different than those receiving them. “There’s that third party piece of the transaction,” he said. “It’s a different way of raising capital which relies more on contributions and grants.”
“We want to get the word out,” said Wilcoxon, “that this program is available so that nonprofits going through a transition know that it’s a resource.”