New generations signal changing times for Allen County nonprofits

When the economy began to recover after the Great Recession, many Baby Boomers who were planning to leave the workforce began to trickle out.

As President of Charitable Advisors out of Indianapolis, Bryan Orander saw this trend coming, so he and others planned to help organizations make the transition, hiring new executive directors.

But something they didn't necessarily expect is that their new hires who filled the Baby Boomers' positions wouldn't want to stay as long.

Whereas older generations often led the same nonprofits for a decade or more, Orander says Gen X and Gen Y leaders are staying sometimes only three to five years before moving on to something else, presenting nonprofit boards with the ever-present threat of having to find replacements.

"Several of the boards we've worked with have called us back and said, 'We need you again. Our executive director worked out fine, but they're moving onto the next thing.'" Orander explains. "If you’re 68 people aren’t surprised when think about retirement, but if you’re 42, you're likely going to catch your board off guard."

So for the last seven years, Orander has shifted his focus to coaching nonprofit boards through the hazy process of hiring an effective executive director. In February and March, he's leading a two-part work session in Fort Wayne on succession planning for Allen County-based nonprofit executives and board members alike.

Bryan Orander

The seminars called "Succession planning is no longer just for retirement," are hosted by the Foellinger Foundation at the Community Foundation, and made possible by a grant from the Barbara Burt Innovator Leader Fund.

The fund was established by the Foellinger Foundation Board of Directors in honor of Barbra Burt, who served the Allen County community as a nonprofit and philanthropic leader for decades.

As President and CEO of the Foellinger Foundation, Cheryl Taylor says Orander brings "valuable expertise and experience" about succession planning to the community.

He will be joined by local nonprofit board leaders who have gone through the process and want to share their experiences.

In the last six years alone, Orander and his firm have supported almost 40 nonprofits through executive director transitions, and he says the process is always challenging and full of surprises for several reasons.

First, succession planning is an awkward subject to broach for executive directors or board members alike.

Zirille retired from his position as executive director of Wellspring in June 2017.

"If you're an executive director, and you go to your board and talk about succession planning, they assume you're leaving," Orander says. "If your board comes to you to talk about succession planning, your first thought is you're being replaced."

So to help ease the transition, Orander encourages board members and executive directors to consider succession planning as simply another skill to keep in their toolkit in case of an emergency or an unexpected departure.

He says another challenge is getting people to think of succession planning as a process, not a person.

Many times board members or nonprofit leaders will have a successor for their organization in mind, but his training encourages them to do things the other way around.

First, identify a process. Then, use that process to appoint an effective leader. 

And for intimate nonprofit organizations, choosing the right leader can be a challenge.

Orander says it often requires more than checking all of the boxes on a job description. There are intangible, human elements involved, too.

But while Gen X and Gen Y leaders are leaving organizations faster than their predecessors, they're also highly attuned to the human side of leadership and finding the right fit, says Jennifer Kasmier.

Wellspring is located at 1316 Broadway in Fort Wayne.

At age 29, Kasmier was chosen to succeed Baby Boomer Frank Zirille as executive director of the nonprofit Wellspring following Zirille's retirement in June 2017. Jennifer Kasmier

After working her way up the ranks at the organization for five years out of college, Kasmier was studying under Zirille as Assistant Executive Director before he announced his retirement, so in many ways, she was the ideal candidate.

Even so, Wellspring's board received a grant from the Foellinger Foundation to go through the process of succession planning with Orander to ensure a smooth transition. 

Kasmier says this time allowed the board to confirm that she had the right personality to match the culture of her organization rather than solely the right experience.

"I think that has an equal impact on someone's ability to do the job," Kasmier says.

As a new generation enters the nonprofit workforce, she encourages board members to be open-minded in the search for executive directors.

While young leaders often have different approaches to the position than their predecessors, some changes make them valuable in new ways. 

"We’re moving into a different era, a different style of management, and different ways of coordinating marketing and fundraising," Kasmier says. "It's important to keep your eyes and heart open to candidates who might provide a different approach."

Attend the Seminar:

Orander's training seminars, "Succession planning is no longer just for retirement," are open to all Allen County-based nonprofit organizations.

Participating organizations are encouraged to send their executive director and a board leader to both sessions on Tuesday, Feb. 20, and Thursday, March 15, from 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne (555 E. Wayne Street).

Seating is limited to 36 attendees.

Each person attending the seminar must RSVP individually:

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara is a Fort Wayne native, passionate about her hometown and its ongoing revival. As Managing Editor of Input Fort Wayne, she enjoys writing about interesting people and ideas in northeast Indiana. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.
Signup for Email Alerts