As organizations move into greater maturity it becomes increasingly important to have both emergency and long-term succession plans in place that are reviewed and adjusted on a regular basis (every 1–2 years). These plans help build organizational resilience in the face of different types of leadership transitions — both planned and unanticipated. They allow the organization to proactively address key risks and thus fulfill an important governance function. Having documented plans also provides clarity and assurance to board, staff, and major funders of the organization’s thoughtfulness, readiness and sophistication.

While both types of plans are important and help protect the…


I was at a week-long leadership workshop last year, and during the sessions we frequently noted what we were observing with the other participants. During one challenging exercise I said to the woman “I’ve noticed you have stopped breathing.” This is so common when we get anxious, angry, or stressed — and of course all it accomplishes is shutting down your ability to be calm, observational, curious, and creative in identifying choices.

The most poignant moment was at the end of the week when we were making requests of each other, and she asked if I would help her learn…


I have been working with very busy philanthropists, nonprofit CEOs, policy makers, and other influential leaders for over 25 years. Each of them is extremely accomplished and at the top of their game in many ways. And yet, each still struggles in the moment to figure out where to focus when too many things are demanding attention at once.

Here is a simple metaphor you can play with in those times when everything seems both important and urgent.

Imagine everything you are juggling. Acknowledge and have compassion for yourself that, no matter what, you cannot possibly keep all these balls…


When you find yourself starting to get triggered, angry, defensive, intimidated, overwhelmed (which are, of course, very normal human reactions to stressors in our lives) — do you immediately jump to conclusions?

Most of us do. When someone cancels a meeting or date, we might conclude that we are not perceived as valuable by the other person. When someone yells or act angry, we might assume we have done something to cause it. When we feel overwhelmed by complexity, we might conclude the task is impossible or beyond our capabilities.

By doing this, we lose our sense of having choices…


In earlier installments of this series, we have discussed nonprofit restructuring through the lens of Mindset, Models, Methods and Misses. This fifth installment is specific to the role funders can play with their grantees and communities.

Many funders have asked us how they can be most helpful to their grantees, and what to avoid. Here are some thoughts based on our experience:

Productive Roles:

  • Get informed on the topic of restructuring — at least the basics. Review the blogs in this series as a starting point — they include links to lots of helpful background and resources.
  • Provide flexible cash…

The recent upheavals have resulted in many nonprofits re-assessing how best to continue their mission and impact. The first three segments in this series cover the mindsets, models, and methods for thinking about various types of restructuring. This blog covers the most common blind spots or “misses”.

On a recent webinar on the topic with Board Member Institute, the interviewer asked me “What are some of the most common blind spots organizations have when thinking about restructuring?” Here are my top three:

  1. Miss #1: “Two struggling orgs make a strong one”. Combining two challenged or failing business models will result…

In the first part of this series, we discuss productive (and unproductive) mindsets about restructuring as nonprofits and funders explore “What’s next?”. In the second installment, we encourage opening up perspectives on the full range of restructuring models available that might best serve your mission and community. This Musing is focused on pragmatic steps to flesh out options and move into action.

Before we begin exploring tactics, however, we want to emphasize how important it is to avoid getting stuck in the “We don’t have enough information” paralysis. No one does, and you never will. Do the best you can…


We recently posted a Musing about counterproductive mindsets when it comes to nonprofit restructuring (read it here).

Unfortunately, a prevailing narrative of “survive, close, or merge” is worming its way through the sector — the first Musing in this series addresses why that is so damaging to making optimal decisions for the future of your mission.

The goal of this Musing is to open perspectives on the numerous models or options nonprofits (and their funders) might consider. Knowing that your organization has many options in and of itself leads to better critical thinking and decision making — vs. …


As funders and nonprofits navigate the “What next?” questions catalyzed by COVID-19 implications, it feels most unfortunate that the primary narrative in our sector has become more and more constrained to “Survive, Close, or Merge”.

First, this framing completely fails to recognize that there are numerous options for how to continue and advance mission and impact. More to come on the options in another chapter in this series.

Second, it reinforces a culture of scarcity that is so pervasive and pernicious amongst the sector. Why is “surviving” so great, anyway? Aren’t we more interested in “thriving?” …

Emily Sterling

I advise philanthropists so they can give better; coach social impact leaders so they can execute better; and bring them together in interesting ways.

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