The Lifecycle of a Nonprofit: (Part 2) The Adolescent Stage

Adrianne DuMond

This article continues a series I started earlier for the blog. Part 1 looked at the Start-Up nonprofit and included the steps to success and the risks involved. The Adolescent Stage may occur between the third and sixth year of operation and be filled with uncertainty and challenges. According to a report by the Gianneschi Center for Nonprofit Research (CSUFullerton) only 57% of nonprofits have enough cash to cover 3 months or less of expenses. And in these difficult economic times we find nonprofits trying to do more with less.

So how do we sustain an agency and help it survive?

The Chief Executive:

Many nonprofits may face a crisis when the role of the chief executive starts to change. It is time for the Board to be clear about the job description as the role shifts from a more entrepreneurial one to a managerial role. Governance issues will surface – that is, staff job descriptions, personnel policies, written policy manual, performance review processes. and budget targets to meet established goals.

If the chief executive is the founder, then that person must delineate between his/her personal goals and the good of the organization. Sometimes the Board is forced to decide that the current executive is not competent enough for the job, as it grows and matures. This may require legal counsel to execute safely, plus a well-defined job description. If, however, the present executive has established broad-based respect in the community, and has shown adeptness to learning quickly, it might be advisable for the Board to offer and pay for training and education to assure his/her success.

Board of Director’s Responsibilities:

Leadership capacity must be cultivated at both the staff and Board level. Board membership in the start-up stage may have been less formal and dependent on supporters who love the mission, but are not necessarily the skills needed to guide and direct growth. The Board may want to conduct a needs assessment for its Board to determine, consensually, what leadership is lacking.

The Board’s responsibilities now shift to:

  • Members chosen on merit, background and skills;
  • Clear goals, strategic planning;
  • Focused future vision;
  • Clear Board expectations that are measured and enforced;
  • Staff driven programs, with sound management;
  • Diversified funding base;
  • A Board that sees its role as fund development, stewardship and advocacy.

As I have stated earlier, the boundaries between stages of the lifecycle are often blurred. But an agency is progressing when leadership and management capacity are growing, and the mission is clear, and being fulfilled by a growth in program delivery.

Author:  Adrianne DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County,