The Case of the Graybeard’s Replacement

This is the Sam Sector III (get it, third sector) saga. If you check on a regular basis you can follow the escapades of Sam “the greatest and only nonprofit detective in the world” as he answers the questions facing today’s nonprofit leaders. Each installment will take only a couple of minutes to read, will provide you with some information, and will end in a bit of a cliff-hanger so that you will return in about 7-10 days to find out what happened. This of course is fun for me, and a different way to get information out to all of you who have an interest.


← Read the first installment

Two hours later Sam sat across from Johnnie R’frame at a small coffee shop; each had a double espresso on the table between them. Johnnie was a young upstart who worked the streets in Nordeast, but he knew which end was up and had his fingers on the pulse of the younger generation. “I think you want to restate the query,” Johnnie said, smiling. “You really want to know ‘How do we get a new leader on-board who can take the organization to the next stage?’ That means you need someone who will bring the necessary skills, experience, and vision to run a nonprofit.” Johnnie crunched on his biscotti and blew crumbs all over Sam as he continued to talk. “And at the same time can introduce a new way of doin’ business to keep the organization moving in this century.”

Sam spotted one of his late-paying clients at the counter buying an expensive flavored drink. He thought of getting up and asking whether the check was in the mail, but satisfied himself with a sigh and another sip of espresso.

“You baby boomers have been bottlin’ up the leadership pipeline, keepin’ everybody else at bay,” Johnnie smirked. “That wouldn’t even be so bad, if you guys would start moving your management style into the 21st century.” Sam fidgeted as he prepared for another one of Johnnie’s lectures, which had to be borne if you wanted information. “You know recent survey work indicates that Gen Ys and Gen @s don’t want to become non-profit ED’s for two reasons…”

Johnnie paused to take a sip and because he knew that it got Sam’s goat when he dragged out his stories. Sam stifled a strong desire to dump his coffee into Johnnie’s lap, and yawned instead.

“Oh, and what are the two reasons?” Sam tried to sound uninterested as he waved to no one in particular behind Johnnie.

Johnnie laughed, knowing better. “Well, they are very different – one group says, ‘No, we have a life and don’t want to trade it in to become an ED,’ which you could kinda figure, eeehhh? Too many hours, too much stress, not enough pay. But the other group’s answer is more interesting: they qualified their no by saying, ‘No, if you mean doing it the way you baby boomer guys do the job, but if you allow us to do it differently, then the answer would be yes.’”

“How did they mean?” By now Sam was fit to be tied, having to drag the information out of Johnnie. But he did want to know what Johnnie had learned.

“Well, they wanted to use their own management style, which included such ‘unthinkables’ as: job sharing with a co-director, dividing up the job and delegating some of the sacred cows like staff management or fundraising, or even using technology as more than a fancy typewriter or an updated filing system, among other really radical ideas.” Johnnie watched Sam motion for two more doubles in recognition of the time that it would take to get the information he needed.

“So what does that mean for the way we need to find and hire for the next round of nonprofit leaders?” asked Sam, his steno pad open and pen bouncing between his annoyed fingers.

“Come on, I bet you can guess,” teased Johnnie as he nibbled on his almond cookie.

“OK, OK, first I’d run a short ad for an ED in the Sunday fishwraps on both sides of the river and describe the essentials that we need. Then I’d put something bigger and more detailed on our website and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and the Minnesota Council on Foundations websites – everybody will look there for more information.” Sam pushed back in his chair and waited for Johnnie’s reaction.

“Well, that is all well and good, but ya haven’t mentioned anything about getting the word out into the informal social networks that the young people use, or allowing for some different approaches that will attract the under 35 set. And what about some diversity?” Johnnie could be irritatingly pedantic.

“All right, all right, gimme a break. I could call some of my ED, consulting, and non-profit friends and get them to get out the info. In fact, I could spread the word among my buds who work in the for-profit sector and ask them to identify people who might consider coming over to the dark side.” Sam was warming to the task. “I might even run a couple of ads in the neighborhood papers and in the community papers that are focused on different ethnic communities. Got any other thoughts, JR?”

“You bet, Sam. How about using some technology, like Facebook, Linked-in, even Twitter might get you some interest from the younger set. The point here is, use the social networks that the younger set access as their way to do everything. As much as possible keep it personal.”

“Err, how do you spell Twitter?” Sam wrote in his crabbed handwriting in his ever-present notebook as Johnnie snickered, “T-W-I-T-T-E-R.”

“Thanks, Johnnie, I owe ya one. I’ll remember what you said and pass it on to my client. I got the tab, kid.” Sam pulled on his hat brim as he bolted out of his chair and strode to the counter where he threw some crumpled bills and nodded to the waitress.

Sam decided to walk through Loring Park to get some air and reflect on what Johnnie had said, much of which was Greek to the 6-foot, swarthy, well-muscled, detective. As he hit his stride, a shabbily dressed middle-aged man approached with his right hand extended and his left hand behind his back. Sam tensed as the man drew closer — ready for anything.

Read the third installment →

If you have ideas that can help Sam as he works on his current case, or if you have "cases" that you would like to see Sam take on, please email me.