The entire weekend of activities was fantastic, due in part to the natural beauty of the Adirondacks (the conference took place at the Minnowbrook Conference Center which is gorgeous) and to all of the interesting literary people from throughout New York state who attended.
“New Leaders in Literature” was the focus of this conference, and the keynote speaker was Victoria J. Saunders, a consultant who does a lot with organizational transitions.
Being relatively young at a brand-new organization, Executive Director transitions isn’t really something I spend a lot of time thinking about. That said, I was the victim of so-called “Founder Syndrome,” so all of these discussions were pretty intriguing.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but the there were a couple of things that stood out that I found quite interesting. First off, it seems that all transitions are rocky. No matter how well planned, organizations always seem to run into some trouble, such as hiring the wrong replacement Executive Director, aving board issues, etc. Obviously, for the betterment of nonprofit organizations, it’s of great importance to focus on these issues and to figure out how best to transition from one ED to the next. Otherwise you end up with Paris Review scenarios, with Brigid Hughes being replaced months after stepping in after George Plimpton’s passing.
But that situation is what resonated most for me . . . So many nonprofits focus on longevity, literary legacies, how to transition to a new director with the same vision and fire, etc., but what is often overlooked is the way that some nonprofits spawn new, culturally important organizations. . . . A sort of “external transitioning” for lack of a better term.
For instance, Seven Stories has been a breeding ground for developing great new organizations. Jill Schoolman was working at Seven Stories when she started Archipelago Books, Violaine Huisman was doing foreign rights when she started her own literary agency. And I believe that Franctious Press is being headed up by Seven Stories employee(s).
Dan Simon deserves a lot of praise for encouraging and cultivating a new generation of literary leaders, and I’m sure that when the time comes, Seven Stories will be able to continue. But that may not be true for all organizations, and although this is hard to accept, for some, maybe they don’t need to continue beyond their original founder/director. As long as new literary leaders are being developed, starting new presses/organizations/events/initiatives and passionately promoting literature, I think things will be OK.
What I took away from this weekend is that in addition to looking for an adequate replacement, directors of admirable nonprofit organizations should focus on inspiring individuals to start new things. In other words, it’s worthwhile to broaden one’s focus to doing things that are good for the field as a whole in addition to focusing on what’s good for “my organization.”
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