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 fourth installment

By 9:00 on Monday morning, Gert sat primly in the overstuffed chair in Sam’s office. Sam was pacing in front of her with short choppy steps. He always moved like that when he was laying out the specifics of a case. Gert was his aunt through marriage with his mother’s favorite brother. She had always liked Sam and brought her years of experience as a Philosophy professor at the U to help him get through several tough cases.

“So let me make sure that I understand this, Samuel. Your investigation leads you to believe that it is time for Gracie to leave her job as Executive Director, both for her own good and for the good of the organization, but you don’t know how to make that happen. Is that correct?” Gert adjusted her purple hat with the daisy flowers so that it sat back on her silver-grey hair. The brim framed her head, reminding Sam of Saturn with its rings.

“That about covers it, Gert. Got any ideas?”

“You bet -- it’s Plato’s reluctant philosopher-king in reverse. First, since she has an understanding of duty and what is in the best interests of everyone, you must help Gracie understand why it makes sense to leave the job – in other words counsel her out. You can do that by stressing the importance of the kind of leadership the organization needs in this stage of its life. You can also help Gracie understand that while she and her skills were necessary to help the organization during the first stage, new leadership and different management skills will be needed to help the organization advance its mission. Finally, you can facilitate her thinking about her life after this job. Surely you will be able to work with her to paint a picture of her future that will draw her into the next chapter of her life.”

“That makes sense, Gert. I know that I can have that conversation with Gracie because she is committed to the mission of the organization, and she wants the organization to be successful. The key will be helping her see that there is life after her 9-year stint as an ED.”

Sam smiled as Stella came into the office carrying two cups of coffee in one hand and balancing a plate of week-old donuts in the other. “I thought you and Gert might like a snack, Sam. Besides the bakery was about to toss these, and I couldn’t imagine your abiding such wastefulness – just dunk them for awhile in the coffee – they’ll soften up nicely.”

Gert took the coffee, but rejected the donuts after Sam dropped one on the floor and it sounded like a bowling ball rolling down the alley. “Okay, Sam — second, you need to develop a transition plan with the board leadership and Gracie that provides for an orderly transition. My advice here is to involve the key board members and Gracie in the planning process so that everyone has a clear idea of what is happening and why. I think you know that once the new director is hired, Gracie needs to leave right away. I would encourage you to help her leave the organization as quickly and completely as possible so that the new leadership can establish a different culture.” Gert took a brief sip of her coffee and, making a face, placed the cup down with finality.

“I get it, Gert. I know that it never makes sense for the old ED to hang around too long once the new staff leader has taken over. I think that I can help the leadership take the next step.” Sam realized that he ought to get some good food for Gert to eat; after all she was giving him free advice, and his favorite aunt could not leave the office hungry. Unfortunately, the only other food Sam had in the office, aside from last night’s half headcheese sandwich in his jacket pocket, was some fruitcake that his mother made for him last New Year’s Day, but he wouldn’t wish that on anyone after all these weeks. “Hey, Gert, let’s you and me head over to Jake’s Deli. I hear that they make knishes on Monday, and there is always the chocolate babka – I wouldn’t mind a celery soda myself – what do ya say?”

“Now you’re talking, Samuel. Let’s head over there before the lunch crowd gets settled.”

After a lunch of borscht, knishes, and chocolate babka at the deli during which Sam and Gert discussed another case based on conflict between an existential board member and a logician ED, Sam walked Gert to the light-rail station and then headed up to the office to meet with Teddy. Teddy was a former client who left her job as a nonprofit ED to create a business serving as an interim executive director for nonprofits. Sam wanted to find out how that situation might work for Gracie’s organization.

Teddy was a tall, cool, strawberry blonde. Sam had always liked her, but now that her new business brought the two together, they were all professional. Teddy was waiting for Sam when he arrived. She was sitting on the edge of Stella’s desk chatting about the last remaining software that could still be used with Stella’s old Mac.

“Sam, Gracie would like to come in tomorrow – she wants to see how you are doing on her case,” Stella greeted the detective.

“Thanks, Stella — Hi, Teddy, what’s the word with your new business?” Sam ushered her into his private office with a wave of his hand.

“I just got back from a 9-month gig in Denver, but right now all is quiet – have you got something for me, big guy?” Teddy winked at Sam.

“We’ll see — might be so. But first I need some info from you. I have a client – you remember Gracie — who might be getting ready to leave her organization. This is all hush-hush Teddy, I haven’t worked things out with her yet, but maybe you could talk me through what an interim director might bring to an organization – what do you do for those big bucks?” Sam winked to punctuate the levity in his last remark.

“It varies, Sam. Sometimes I step in for a director and just keep the operation going for a few months until a more permanent director is hired. Other times I serve as the staff leader and assist the board in the hiring process, providing them with insights into the needs of the position. Finally, I might also do a brief organizational assessment to give the board a third-party view of how the organization is doing.” Teddy smiled at Sam as she straightened her classic, blue pinstripe suit jacket.

“Good to hear. How long do you usually serve as an interim director? Can ya gimme a range?” Sam was uncomfortably aware of the mustard stain on his jacket, the coffee spots on his tie, and the chocolate from the babka on his shirt.

“It’s usually a 6-18 month gig with most being around 12 months – but that is often when the ED leaves unexpectedly or due to a significant problem. Is that the situation with Gracie?” Teddy shook her head in response to Sam’s outstretched hand with a glass of amber liquid.

Sam shrugged his shoulders, knocked back the drink, and shook his head in reply to the question. “Nah…Gracie doesn’t have anything like that, but you helped me pull together a last part of the puzzle. Thanks, Teddy, I’ll be sure to tell the board about you and your business if they need an interim. How’s about I take you to Guido’s for some eel stew with polenta and a nice Pinot Grigio? You can help me outline my presentation for Gracie.”

“Sounds good, Sam, but I think that I’ll pass this time. Good luck with your case, and thanks for any recommendations you can make for me.” Teddy did not look like she would regret missing the eel stew as she circled her hand around her stomach.

As Sam headed to Guido’s alone, he knew that he would need to organize his findings for his presentation to Gracie for the next morning.

Read the sixth 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.