May 9, 2018

Development Dilemma: Staff Transitions

In our weekly column, consultants with decades of nonprofit experience answer your questions about fundraising, boards, strategy and more. To ask a question and be featured (anonymously!) in the column, email your questions to

This week’s question will be answered by Sandy Karuschak.

The Dilemma

A valued staff member in my development department is leaving. I know that staff changes in the department are felt by everyone and change alone can just be hard. How can I make this a more positive experience?

Sandy’s Response

Managing staff transitions in the development department can be a stressful experience that often lasts longer than anticipated, but it also can lead to a clarity in future goals and opportunities for growth within the current staff. The search for the right candidate for the role often brings a renewed focus on the priorities and goals of the coming year or even the next 3-5 years.

The entire development team can gain from this atmosphere of renewed energy and focus from the addition of new development staff. During my years as a chief development officer, I used these opportunities to evaluate the current distribution of responsibilities among the development staff and the amount of growth each staff member had already demonstrated. In many cases, I shifted new responsibilities to existing staff members so that they would have a chance to learn and grow. The chance to learn new responsibilities and a potential opportunity for promotion within the department is an important aspect of staff transitions.

In my experience, one concern that is often raised when a staff member is leaving is the importance of updating, or for the first time creating, documentation for the important functions of that position. While the timing when a staff member leaves is something that is negotiated, prioritizing time with the outgoing staff member to review documentation provides a foundation for the new team member and strengthens overall operations within the department. In the ideal situation, there is the opportunity for the outgoing and incoming staff member to overlap in order for the new firsthand the intricacies of the position.

Another good practice when managing staff transitions is undertaking a listening tour with each development staff member. Scheduling individual time with each member of the team is crucial to learning about what experience they bring to their role, the successes and challenges in their current position, what they envision for their own future growth at the organization or beyond, and what suggestions and ideas they may have for enhancing the success of the department.

With these ideas, managing staff transitions can be a positive and proactive experience that will provide a smooth path for a new staff member to join the team and for current staff to feel engaged in the process. Best of luck!

Written by

Sandy Karuschak

Sandy Karuschak is Senior Counsel at Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt.


Questions or comments? Join the conversation!

TWB Fundraising Logo
How to reach us

2 North Riverside Plaza
Suite 1875
Chicago IL 60606

Follow us on
Sign up for our newsletter
Get the latest in nonprofit news and advice delivered straight to your inbox.
The Giving Institute Logo

Copyright © 2024 TWB Fundraising. All Rights Reserved.