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The Three Keys to Leaving a Not for Profit Well

Monday, 23rd February 2015 at 9:55 am
Xavier Smerdon
Recently Doug Taylor left a high-profile position as CEO at United Way Australia to become the Director for Strategic Engagement at UnitingCare NSW & ACT. Today he shares the top things to remember when leaving a Not for Profit organisation.

Monday, 23rd February 2015
at 9:55 am
Xavier Smerdon



The Three Keys to Leaving a Not for Profit Well
Monday, 23rd February 2015 at 9:55 am

Recently Doug Taylor left a high-profile position as CEO at United Way Australia to become the Director for Strategic Engagement at UnitingCare NSW & ACT. Today he shares the top things to remember when leaving a Not for Profit organisation.

There’s a lot written about how to find a new job and what you need to do to establish yourself in your first 100 days of a new role. Surprisingly very little has been shared about how to leave an organisation well, which is surprising when you think about how many workplaces we move on from in the course of a career.

This is particularly the case today and a far cry from my parent’s generation when you stuck with one employer your whole career. For example my father worked for one bank his whole career (43 years to be precise).

This is something I’ve thought about over the last few months as I transition from being the CEO of United Way Australia and it’s doubly important in Not for Profits given we live off social and financial capital.

Not for Profits lose a bit of their social currency when someone leaves and it’s incumbent on the person leaving to ensure we don’t exacerbate this by leaving badly.

So what are the must do’s to getting this transition right?

1. Leave on good terms but share your insights

We’ve all seen it – people leaving organisations badly. You know how it goes; a person decides to leave their job for a new role and thinks that it’s a great opportunity to tell everyone what they think of them and their organisation.

It’s obviously not a good look! Invariably you’ll encounter your former colleagues again at some point in your professional life – they could be your future supervisor, funder or collaborators so whatever you do, don’t burn any bridges.

That said it’s important to provide feedback because when you leave you do have the benefit of years of work, fewer constraints and some distance, which combined can provide great insight.

Larger organisations will often have formal exit interviews but they can often be quite constraining in nature and anyway smaller Not for Profits will rarely have such processes in place.

The key here is get your motivations right, do you want to provide feedback to make you feel better or build a better Not for Profit?

If you think your motivation is right then find a person you trust who has the capacity to do something with your feedback.

When I left United Way I wrote an open letter for my colleagues across the world encouraging them in their work and sharing some insights about our challenges ahead. Its purpose was to help them in bringing our plan to life not settle any scores (not that I had any!)

2. Take time to reflect on what will take or leave behind

Things get pretty busy as you leave and prepare for your new role. I’ve been flat out getting the recruitment process in place for my successor, making sure the team know where they stand, saying goodbye to stakeholders and documenting handover notes not to mention the long neglected filing.

Combined with this I’ve been reading documents to prepare me for my new role at UnitingCare NSW & ACT. In all this busyness it’s very easy to not take the time to reflect on what you’ve learnt about yourself in your recent role.

Hopefully in your career you will only be ‘between roles’ a few times in your career but don’t miss the great opportunity that it provides.

This ‘in between’ space is a great time to ask yourself some hard questions:

  • On balance ‘what you have achieved of a lasting nature’? If the answers not much then maybe you need to think about the things that you have prioritised or how you can obtain more influence in effecting change

  • With the benefit of hindsight ‘what you would do differently’? We all make mistakes, the key here is to ensure you don’t keep repeating the same ones over

  • Putting all this together ‘what will make you excel’ in your new role? Take it a step further and write the 3 things you will do more of in your new role that will improve your effectiveness and efficiency.

3. Have a legacy mindset

When I announced that I was leaving United Way I remember a friend making an offhand joke that I would perhaps not want my successor to excel in the role because it will show me up. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have some sort of misgivings about our successor doing a great job or the organisation going from strength to strength and not falling in a heap.

This really is dead end thinking and the danger here is that our mindset shapes how we behave and could play out in a myriad of unhelpful ways.

A far more helpful approach is to think that our legacy is measured by the degree to which our successor and organisation thrives after we leave.

In my farewell speech at United Way I outlined how Jim Collins talks about the need “to build things that last” and I would add to this “that creates a positive and lasting impact”.  

Success is not what is achieved during our tenure, but rather the degree to which our organisation succeeds after we leave.

About the author: Doug Taylor is the Director for Strategic Engagement at UnitingCare NSW & ACT. Prior to this he was the CEO and Non Executive Director of United Way Australia. He has spent more than 20 years working in the social sector and has a passion for volunteering. Taylor is also a Board member at the School for Social Entrepreneurs, the Australian Centre for Social Innovation and the Centre for Social Impact. He tweets at @dougtayloruw and writes a blog at

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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