3 Ways to Nurture Strong Successors


A milestone anniversary naturally beckons us to reflect. At 35, we see the importance of our ability to nurture strong successors who will continue the work we all love. And so, GMA Foundations celebrates 35 years in philanthropy with a series of articles on governance and strong organizations.

Adapting to Change

The Foley Hoag Foundation signed our first client service agreement on November 29, 1982, and remains our valued client today. As we look to the future with all of our clients – most are planning to exist in perpetuity –how can we be certain of having strong successors who will continue our work? How will our organizations stay strong and adaptive to changing times?

Celebrating GMA’s 25th with our clients & friends

Together with our clients we have adapted over the years to the changing field, to changing perspectives and to societal pressures, and yet our daily goal has not changed – we set out to exceed our clients’ expectations with excellent services and valuable insight.  Our success is entirely dependent on our staff.

Our shared future depends on nurturing strong successors, and so we invest in the health of GMA by focusing on shared leadership, knowledge development, and succession planning. It is no surprise that these three key values are essential to the success and longevity of our clients’ boards as well.

Shared Leadership

By far the best approach to staff effectiveness and satisfaction is shared leadership and opportunities for each staff member to innovate, implement, and evaluate their own ideas.  GMA is a “cooperative corporation.”  In order to exist in perpetuity so that we can serve our clients in perpetuity, we are on a shared ownership path.  In 1982, GMA had three employee owners; today we have eleven – spanning three generations.

Knowledge Development

Our staff development program encourages staff members to spend time with philanthropic peers to learn what other funders are doing and meet new grantee partners.  It brings the nonprofit community and GMA funders together through our NPO Conversations Program.  We seek opportunities to learn alongside our clients at conferences and seminars.

Succession Planning

At 35, GMA still has four of our first five clients. Each client we serve will eventually need a talented staff successor. While we have a terrific staff retention rate, our confidence in our ability to deliver continuity in our client relationships comes from our practice of working in teams where each member has a valued role.  We invite individual initiative, serve as mentors to each other, and encourage staff to get to know all of our clients.

As GMA begins our 36th year, I am sharing the basics of our approach to building a strong team with you with the hope that (eventually) our respective successors will continue to enjoy working together on effective and joyful giving. It is a pleasure.

Mary Phillips wrote this for GMA’s periodic President’s Letter, December 2017