Exponent Philanthropy

A Lesson in Humility

by Carrie Avery, The Durfee Foundation May 8th, 2016

I was excited when a colleague told me about her idea for a grant program to help retiring baby boomer executive directors of nonprofits transition out of their roles and into consulting positions at other nonprofits. I thought this was genius. Not only did it address an issue that funders have been discussing for a long time—the need to smooth the transition of outgoing EDs and pave the way for new talent—but it provided wise counsel to mid-sized nonprofits in need of senior staff. Thinking that this was a program that Durfee could launch, I presented it to my board. They shared my enthusiasm and signed off on planning funding.

To test the idea, Durfee brought together 13 esteemed nonprofit leaders for a lunchtime focus group discussion in downtown Los Angeles. Our meeting facilitator laid out the program design, and we went around the room to get reactions. No one liked it. A few people tried to be polite and say that they saw some possibilities, but the overwhelming response was that the program was too structured and did not allow for the many nuanced considerations of retirement.

The big takeaway for me was that if Durfee had launched this program without checking in as we did, we still would have gotten applications. During the lunch, I could see the EDs struggling to figure out how they could make this program work for them. Sadly, they have a lot of practice trying to fit their organizational needs into the often rigid requirements of well-meaning grant programs.

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