CASE STUDY | Alliance for Children Everywhere
Since its founding in 1969, Alliance for Children Everywhere (ACE) has been guided by the belief that strong families are the ultimate solution for long-term sustainability of healthy communities.
The organization provides temporary crisis homes and reintegration options for abandoned and vulnerable children through comprehensive social welfare programs. ACE partners with church leaders, volunteers, and social workers to create a one-of-a-kind local foster care program and educational opportunities, empowering families with tools for a sustainable future through job training, education, infant nutrition programs, and local partnerships.
In 2015, ACE faced a crucial time of transition as the organization’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer prepared to retire after 4 decades of faithful service.
“The strategic, yet delicate process of leadership succession can make or break an organization,” says Atul Tandon. The ACE board of directors contracted with Tandon Institute to address the six critical essentials for a seamless transition that would ensure:
- successful onboarding of the new CEO,
- crucial unity within the board,
- foundational trust with stakeholders at every level
- deepening engagement with U.S. and international field staff,
- ongoing organizational effectiveness,
- strong evidence of ACE’s continued global impact
Tandon Institute emphasized that the best-case scenario of a complete, successful leadership succession from a long-time founder to a new CEO starts with a pre-planning, onboarding over 100 days, partnering through the first budget cycle, and culminating in a full transition over 36 months.
“Like all non-profits, ACE had virtually no ‘do over’ margin,” says Tandon. “The organization’s relatively small infrastructure demanded textbook execution of a customized, sound strategy. There is a profound human dimension in leadership succession, and there were no guarantees of success. Wisdom, listening, patience, perseverance, and grace among all parties would be critical.
Through a thorough discovery phase of interviews with the board, the incoming CEO and the departing founder, Tandon crafted a strategic four-fold approach:
- First, the needed preparation of the board to reflect on the organization’s past and assess the type of leader needed ACE needed for the future. Reflection and assessment of the current staff, including the intangibles of both domestic and international staff, was key.
- Preparation set the stage for the second step, the necessary pivoting in of the new leader. “Mutual trust between board, staff and the new CEO is always the most crucial, because trust means everything—for raising funds that determine programs needed to transform lives.
- The pivoting out of the retiring CEO, navigated with sensitivity and respect, would complete the transition. Most significant: The transfer of knowledge of policy, culture, organizational history, and stakeholder involvement–particularly that of donors and volunteer.
- The propelling of the incoming CEO, with a sound plan, supported restructuring and ongoing board & stakeholder engagement .
Tandon carefully dovetailed all four phases with the ACE board and the incoming CEO Cari Armbruster, who recounts the strengths and effectiveness of the process:
- “I quickly reaffirmed my true leadership style as a builder and confirmed this was what the organization needed in a new CEO that would help them grow.
”Says ACE Board Chair Walton Bryde, “Atul’s giftedness to listen well, combined with his vast experience with non-profits, gave the board direction and a deepening confidence that Cari offered the kind of leadership ACE needed to thrive and grow.”
By the end of the “First 90 Days” leadership succession strategy, new CEO Cari Armbruster successfully led the organization so that ACE:
- retained all donors and partner relationships, with no significant drop off of donor contribution during the transition,
- maintained all programs at 2015 levels, to serve and impact an estimated 3,000 at-risk children and families, and
- laid the groundwork for new, expanded growth in 2016.
Says ACE Board Chair, Walton C Bryde, “We needed continuity of leadership, trust and organizational impact in a delicate time transition. We achieved all of this and more Alliance for Children Everywhere is now poised, more than ever to fulfill our mission to rescue and care for children, provide for their education, and to empower families to provide a brighter future for their children.”
What I have learned through the experience of a succession of leadership is best captured in an African proverb:
If you want to go fast, you go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.
There is too much at stake to go it alone. An outside professional — experienced in successful delicate transitions with the best interest of the organization, the board and the CEO — can facilitate a new and necessary trust and success that is vital for organizational health.
Cari Armbruster, CEO
Alliance for Children Everywhere