Thinking About Philanthropy – And How to Leave It

June 10, 2009

David Grant, President and CEO


Yesterday morning there was an article in The Star-Ledger by Peggy McGlone about my decision to leave the Presidency of the Dodge Foundation next year. The article ended rather abruptly, and when I checked it out online I found out why. Peggy had written a final paragraph which was not in the printed version.

In it, she quoted me as saying, “Leaving a leadership position well is an underappreciated art.” I think it’s an idea worth pondering.

During the past 24 hours, many people have reached out to me via phone and e-mail to extend their best wishes, and that notion of “how to leave” has been an interesting sub-theme in our conversations. When is too early? When is too late? How much notice is the right notice? Who’s in on the decision? Then what happens?

It seems to me there are many of us so-called “Boomers” in particular who are deeply committed to organizations, including some we have founded, who are looking ahead and hoping that when the time to leave comes, which it inevitably will, we can do it in ways that enhance our organizations rather than threaten them.

All of us at Dodge would love to know how some of you are thinking about this issue. What are the variables? What are examples of doing it well? What are the mistakes to avoid? Who has written about this well?

One answer to the last question is Susan Stevens, in her remarkable book Non-Profit Lifecycles. She has a particular interest in founders and how they leave, but her observations about the opportunities and threats inherent in any change in executive leadership are very helpful.

Your own observations?