Organizational transition --- pain for gain

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In a workshop on developing volunteer leadership, Penny Burk of Burk and Associates addressed the match between board volunteers and staff with the three phases of the nonprofit organization's life cycle. "Every organization goes through some type of difficult transition phase prior to emerging as a more stable and productive entity," she explained.

The three stages are founding and early development; rapid growth and change; and mature, steady growth.

Each is tied more to timing in the cycle and Board thinking than to budget or organization size. "You can recognize that your organization is in transition from one phase to the next by the struggle taking place among volunteers or among volunteers and staff.

So that your organization can minimize the amount of time and pain experienced in transition, here are Burk's indicators:

Growth from Phase 1 to Phase 2

  • The board consists of two factions --- those who founded the organization and everyone else.
  • The Executive Committee is very active and makes most of the decisions.
  • "Rubber-stamping" board meetings are common.
  • Premature resignations by board members, especially those who are not in the "inner circle".
  • Committee work is done at board meetings.
  • "Eleventh-hour" recruitment of new board members takes place.
  • No ( or insufficient) orientation or training exists for new board members.
  • Board meetings drag on beyond two hours.
  • The same business seems to come up over and over at board meetings.
  • Meetings go off on tangents.
  • Confusion reigns over what is staff work vs. volunteer work.
  • Emotional scenes are often part of board meetings.

Growth from Phase 2 to Phase 3

  • Board members may have relinquished too much of the decision-making function to staff and the board does not stick to the strategic plan.
  • Board is focused on support systems (such as fundraising or marketing) and not on the organization's service-based mandate.
  • Board may continue to cross the line from policy-setting to management decision-making.
  • Though committees function more effectively, there continues to be a shortage of people at this level.
  • Proactive development of committee and board volunteers "up the ranks" is sporadic or non-existent.
  • Performance evaluations for volunteers seldom exist.

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