The question more and more non-profits and religious organizations are asking today is, “Can we survive after losing our leader?” It’s apparent that organizations that begin without a clearly defined leader can set the stage for success. Think Red Cross or American Way for instance. But when an organization begins with a clearly defined leader, can it make the transition once that leader leaves or passes on? The Salvation Army has certainly done it.
To be clear, I’m not talking about a leader in the business sense, but a public leader. Someone the public looks at as the face of the organization – someone who takes the heat. There is a record number of religious organizations today passing the generational mark, and some have successors, and some don’t. Some organizations began thinking about it years in advance, but sadly, not many. Most refuse to think about it, plan for the event, and when it comes, it hits them like a freight train.
You’d think it would simply be a re-branding issue. Portraying the organization as a “group” instead of a “person,” re-defining the ask, and creating a new identity. On the other hand, the public (meaning potential donors) want to see a face. They want a relationship with a person, not a building, an organization, or a group. They want personal accountability. Someone to acknowledge the success, or take the heat.
Can a non-profit organization that in the public mind has had a leader in the past, change their orientation? Can it work? Will people respond? Let me know your thoughts. And if you think it can work, any suggestions for making that happen?