Non-Profits, Present and Future

The Philadelphia Foundation, our region's community foundation, will always hold a dear place in my heart, as it was the first major funder of the youth program I founded in 1997. But, beyond their generosity, over the years I have come to appreciate the hearts and minds of the good people that work there. My admiration is greatest for their president, Andrew Swinney, who has been kind enough to meet with me on a regular basis and share some of his insights on the non-profit and philanthropy worlds.

Among other topics, Andrew shares my concern for the issue of succession planning within non-profits of all sizes. Almost by definition, and usually for good purposes, an executive director becomes the organization, as he or she sacrifices greatly to define, lead, and fundraise for it. This melding makes for good branding, but it also makes it hard for both leader and organization to detach, when it comes time for transition. So it takes a great deal of humility on his or her part, as well as a supportive board and outside expertise, to make sure that good thing doesn't become a deterrent to cultivating a broader base of leadership for the future.

Nancy Kolb at the Please Touch Museum and Jane Pepper at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society are two illustrative examples, in my opinion and from my perspective, of thoughtful leaders who disengaged themselves from their respective organizations in ways that were fruitful and humble and edifying. Here are two local icons, who became synonymous with their organizations, demonstrating tireless commitment to their missions, and achieving remarkable results as a result; and yet, they have been mindful that future leadership needed to be cultivated, and were able to leave their organizations in great shape for life after their leadership.

Would that there were more of this kind of stewardship of organizations and of leadership roles. Check out two recent reports by the Philadelphia Foundation, the first on the impact of non-profits in the region, and the second on governance issues like succession planning, to inform yourself about this important issue. For if non-profits are a big deal around here (and they are), and if leadership transitions are difficult to manage (and they are), then that means we have to keep our eye on this issue, as it will affect the quality and quantity of our performing arts, our human services, and all of the other services rendered by these important entities to all of us in the region.

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