The Five Essential Skills of Successful Consultants to Nonprofits

It seems that, at some point, nearly every nonprofit executive flirts with the idea of either becoming a consultant or going to work for a foundation. In the workshops that I lead for transitioning nonprofit leaders, both of these roles seem to hold some fascination for executives when they contemplate what’s next for their careers.

While I will leave it to others to speak to what it takes to succeed as a foundation executive, in this post, I explore what my colleague Susan Schaefer* and I have learned about success in consulting with nonprofits. Reflecting on our combined 35+ years of experience building our consulting practices plus Susan’s work chronicling the success of America’s leading nonprofit consultants, we’ve identified five critical knowledge areas, skills, and abilities that successful consultants master.

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Five Barriers Between You and Your Life’s Next Chapter

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s been impossible to avoid the media stories about the massive wave of baby boomers heading towards retirement. But underlying these stories are some striking facts that signal a major change in leadership in enterprises and institutions throughout the country. The median age for an S&P 500 CEO is 55. Three-fifths of senior federal executives are, or shortly will be, eligible for retirement. And, it’s estimated that two-thirds of our nation’s nonprofit leaders are age 60 or older.

As these leaders head towards the traditional retirement threshold, the situations and opportunities they face are dramatically different than those faced by any previous generation. For a host of reasons, traditional retirement is not the choice of many Boomers, nonprofit leaders included. Here are a few of those reasons:

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A Pre-Retirement Money-Phobe Finds a Financial Advisor

Recently my wife and I went through the process of shopping for a new financial advisor. (Okay, I’ll admit it, our first financial advisor.) Like many of us in nonprofit world, I have always been more comfortable with people and ideas rather than finance. But, with retirement looming, my on-again, off-again, DIY-but-mostly-think-about-it-tomorrow approach wasn’t cutting it.

Exposing our financial souls to a stranger was initially humbling but,
in the end, it was a rewarding experience.

Exposing our financial souls to a stranger was initially humbling but, in the end, it was a rewarding experience. This fresh outside look helped us see the places where we’re better off than we expected and where we’re at risk. Most importantly, we now have a clearer path forward. The process made this fiercely independent DIYer a convert.

I know there’s a ton of information out there about financing your retirement, picking advisors, etc., but I thought I would share some of the guides we found useful in our shopping and planning process.

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Every Nonprofit CEO Needs an Exit Strategy

Every career ends in a transition. It’s just a matter of when, how, and how well managed.

Smart leaders – whether they’re running a business or a nonprofit – know that they’ll leave their role at some point. They know that every job and every career ends in a transition eventually. It’s just a matter of when, how, and how well managed that transition is when the time comes.

The longer an executive has been in place,
the more challenges the successor will likely face.

When CEOs move on – especially if they’re a founder, a long-tenured executive, or a transformational leader – their organization needs to devote appropriate time and resources to managing the transition, ensuring that it’s more than just a search and hiring exercise. The longer an executive has been in place, or the more significant their impact on the organization, the harder they are to succeed and the more challenges the successor will likely face. An exit strategy can help pave the way for a smoother transition.

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Exits From the Top Episode #6 – Tapping the Power of Executive Coaching During a Leadership Transition

Welcome to Episode #6 of Exits From The Top. We will be talking with veteran executive coaches Viveka Chen and Brian Fraser about tapping the power of executive coaching during a leadership transition. Here’s what you’ll learn from these experts:

  • What executive coaching is and isn’t
  • How coaching works and what it costs
  • How coaching can help the departing executive have a better exit and set themselves up to thrive in life’s next chapter
  • How to find and pick the right executive coach
  • How to work effectively with a coach

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Viveka’s consulting practice is focused on organizational development and executive coaching. She also facilitates retreats and organizational change processes as well as executive transitions and leadership development. Prior to starting her consulting practice in 2001, Viveka was Executive Director of the East Bay Conversion & Reinvestment Commission, and Associate Director of Urban Habitat. For twenty years she has worked with low-income communities of color and their allies to realize racial, social and environmental justice. Click to read more about Viveka and her work with Coaching for Justice.

Brian is the “lead provocateur” at JazzThink, a coaching and consulting firm based in North Vancouver, BC. Brian coaches leaders and teams, offers courses on coaching skills and what he calls SMARTer conversations. Prior to launching JazzThink in 2002, Brian taught and administered in postgraduate leadership programs in the theological colleges at the University of British Columbia. An ordained minister, he still ministers part time with Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Burnaby, BC. Click to read more about Brian and Jazz Think.

Watch the Video

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6 Signs That It’s Time to Move On

Leading well includes leaving well. That means taking charge of your exit.

Deciding when to move on – that it’s time to retire, shift into an encore career, or otherwise leave your leadership role – and head toward life’s next chapter may be the most challenging decision of your career. Some leaders make this decision easily and move forward gracefully. Others delay, postpone, and defer until circumstances take over. They hang on too long until the “it’s time to leave” signals become so blindingly obvious that they can no longer be avoided. Still other executives never seem to get the message and have to be subtly, or sometimes not so subtly, forced out of their positions. This article covers six classic signs that it might be time to prepare your exit plan.

Leading well includes leaving well, and that means taking charge of your exit and leaving on a high note. Choosing how to exit your role may be the ultimate act of leadership. The first step is determining when it’s time to move on.

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Review – Live Smart

Live Smart After 50!, by Natalie Eldridge

Two heads are better than one. So how about 33? Live Smart After 50! compiles advice from 33 retirement advice experts from the Life Planning Network. Live Smart After 50! offers a holistic perspective for retirement planning, covering a wide spectrum of issues central to your life during retirement.

Live Smart After 50! doesn’t shy away from topics that might make the reader uncomfortable. The section entitled, “Sex: Are Older People Doing It?” dispels some commonly-held myths about sexuality among older adults.  In the “Your Wishes Matter” section, the author covers “things you would rather not think about,” with some common-sense advice for estate-planning, and items so obvious you might have missed them. Do you know who the beneficiaries are for your IRA? Have you reviewed that information in the past 10 years? The author of this section points out that a will alone is no longer considered sufficient estate-planning.

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Review – Second Acts

Second Acts: Creating the Life You Really Want, Building the Career You Truly Desire, by Stephen M. Pollan

In Second Acts, life coach Stephen Pollan counsels his readers through the complicated process of beginning a new career. Pollan directs the reader to get a notebook and begin writing down the practical and emotional obstacles they need to overcome in pursuit of their goals. Second Acts makes a convincing case for planning instead of wishing. The author suggests that the reader may balk at the idea of “taking what should be a romantic adventure and turning it into a prosaic project.” But if you follow his thorough guide for planning your second act, you’ll have an invaluable resource for keeping yourself on task.

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Review – Encore Handbook

The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life, by Marci Alboher

You don’t have to feel alone as you plan your retirement. Author Marci Alboher wrote The Encore Handbook to encourage readers to make their personal journey a topic of conversation. If you look around, you’ll find many colleagues planning to find “purpose, passion, and a paycheck” after they retire. Each section of the handbook includes discussion points for group meetings. Appendix E offers complete meeting plans. Ideally, you should read this book as part of a retirement book club. You can use the Encore website (Encore.org) to find an Encore group in your area, if you can’t, create one out of your immediate network of friends and co-workers.

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Review – Encore

Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Lifeby Marc Freedman

In Encore, author Marc Freedman describes the unsustainable nature of the retirement culture today. Evaluating the size of the Baby Boomer generation, Freedman concludes that the current crop of retirees needs to carve out a new niche in the workforce to ensure both economic prosperity and the appropriate delegation of existing talent. Encore encourages the reader to consider what passions they could invest in a second career. To this end, Freedman quotes developmental psychologist Erick Erickson: “I am what survives of me.” Encore targets readers who want encouragement to make use of their talents for an impactful third act.

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