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 third installment

By 5:30 Sunday morning, Sam and his fishing buddy and lifelong friend Joey were heading to a small, little-known lake just south of the cities that had some nice bass. By 6:30 Sam and Joey were wrestling the ‘70 lightweight Grumman canoe off the top of the ‘60 Ford Falcon. Sam liked to keep his canoes at least 10 years newer than his cars – he was clearly more afraid of drowning than dying in a car crash. After each had landed a ‘nice one,’ Sam spilled the situation with Gracie. Based on Joey’s years working his way up in a large corporation, he understood the complexities of management and the need to provide for smooth leadership transition.

As Joey tossed his surface Rappala along the shoreline and twitched it, he reflected some thoughts to Sam. “I think ya got two separate leadership transition issues here, Sammy, my boy, and it could be that Gracie will need to address both of them. One is about risk management – that is, the ‘hit by the proverbial bus’ scenario – in other words what happens one day if Gracie is gone? How will the organization operate in the short term without the staff leader? This is mostly about keeping the organization afloat in the short term.”

The conversation was interrupted by Joey hooking into a Northern that was looking for some bass for breakfast. After a short tussle, Sam got the net under the pike and scooped it into the canoe. “What do you want me to do with this hammer handle, Joey?”

“Aw, let’s let him grow up some and catch him again next year. Anyhoo, the second transition issue is coming up with a fit for where the organization is heading once Gracie decides to book. This second transition issue is usually less time critical, but more about the skills and experience of the new ED. The two questions that the board must answer in order to hire for this transition are:

  • What is the vision for the organization?
  • What kind of director do we need to get there?”

“OK, Joey, I get it. But I’ve got a feeling that the $64,000 question that Gracie needs to answer is, does she have the skills, energy and will to take the organization to that future?”

“Dead-on, Sam! Unless and until she gets clear in her mind, this case won’t get put to bed. Hey, looks like you got a nice one – keep him away from that log or you’ll lose him.”

Sam worked the bass away from the log by keeping the tip of the rod up while cranking on his Mitchell reel. It looked like the danger was past when all hell broke loose. A large muskie lurking under the log exploded on Sam’s bass, and suddenly Sam was trying to handle a monster with his lightweight gear. The predator fish rolled near the surface and Joey yelled, “It’s gotta be a four-footer Sam, keep him away from the log or it’s done, for sure.”

Sam was too busy to ask Joey how exactly he should do that. The good news was that the big fish was heading for deeper water, so Sam let him take out line, then without warning the Muskie changed direction and headed right for the bow of the Grumman. “Whoa, Nelly, don’t let him get tangled around the boat! Your gear can’t handle that!!” Joey was stating the obvious.

“I know, I know!” squawked Sam as he tried to move to the bow of the canoe where he could better keep control of his line. The only problem was that Joey was already sitting in the bow. This meant switching positions – a bit dicey in a canoe under the best of circumstances. They might have even made the change if it weren’t for Joey’s lucky fishing box, which was open and directly underfoot. With a yelp, Sam lurched over the bow while Joey flipped starboard, and they were both in the drink. Sam could hear the muskie laughing as they made their way to shore using the capsized canoe as a float between them.

Later, as they each changed into Sears coveralls that Sam kept in the trunk for just such emergencies, Joey chuckled, “It was worth losin’ my lucky gear box to see you fly through the air like that, Sam. Tell me, what went through your brain?”

“Never you mind, I was having trouble figuring which end was up. What were you doin’, laughin’ too hard to think?” Sam snorted.

“Somethin’ like that.”

Later, as they sat at a small tavern, Joey holding court with the three other patrons and retelling the fishing story of the day, Sam made some notes on a bar napkin:

  • Short-term risk management plan to take care of ED functions in case of an emergency
    •  Who handles what in the short term – existing staff and board?
    • Is a consultant or outside person needed to cover the bases?
  • Longer term plan for hiring the next ED
    • Where is the organization heading?
    • What skills and experience are needed for the next ED?
    • What is the process for hiring?

As Joey told the part about the dance in the canoe, Sam couldn’t help wondering if this might be some kind of metaphor for Gracie’s situation. Maybe he’d better figure out where the muskie was lurking if he wanted to help out Gracie, otherwise they would all be in the drink.

Read the fifth 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.