HOW AN INTERIM CEO PLACEMENT PAVED THE WAY FOR SUCCESS IN ARIZONA
By Shannon Abitbol, UWRA Board member
The old phrase ‘you don’t
United Way of Graham and Greenlee Counties (UWGGC) in Safford, Arizona had been volunteer-led for years. As community needs grew, the board of directors recognized the value of having professional staff to advance the initiatives they were building with their $2.5 million annual budget. By May 2018, the board agreed it was time to look for the organization’s first CEO.
Sometimes, getting started is the hardest part.
The board of directors of UWGGC knew they needed a full-time staff leader, but initially lacked a clear path for turning their goal into a reality. They decided to consider an interim CEO after staff members at United Way Worldwide suggested they enlist the help of the United Way Retirees Association (UWRA). The idea of finding an interim professional who was already familiar with the United Way network made a lot of sense to board members. David Himmelfarb, Vice President of the board of directors during the interim search, noted that UWRA was extremely helpful in mentoring UWGGC through all aspects of the hiring process - including costs, advertising and expectations.
Maurine Dyer Stevens was a new member of UWRA when the interim CEO announcement landed in her inbox. She had held many leadership positions throughout her career, including roles with United Way, and thought the interim opportunity was well-suited to her experience and expertise. Maurine was the first CEO for two other organizations and felt compelled to offer her assistance, once again, as a candidate for UWGGC. Maurine was one of nine highly qualified candidates reviewed by UWGGC’s board.
After visiting UWGGC and interviewing with the President and Vice President of the board, Maurine accepted the interim position and signed a 6-month contract to serve as UWGGC’s first official staff leader. UWGGC’s board clearly defined the focus and responsibilities for Maurine’s term, which included the following:
Maurine developed a detailed scope of work that identified tasks, timelines, action steps and outcomes to achieve. It also included her recommendations for next steps in organizational development, including potential opportunities and specific areas for future attention. The scope was a working document that guided organizational focus and was modified as needed.
From the perspective of the board of directors, the interim CEO placement was extremely successful. They found Maurine to be an excellent communicator with a cohesive work style. She was comfortable following the direction of the board and offering her perspective in ways that helped them see the bigger picture. Her work plan highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the organization while setting a clear direction for their future.
David Himmelfarb noted, “When you’re an all-volunteer organization, and you’ve been managing without the help of staff, it is hard to know what it is going to look like when a professional takes over. The transition is huge and potentially difficult, but it went smoothly. We are extraordinarily pleased with the outcome.”
After just 6 months, Maurine’s list of accomplishments was long. She created a solid infrastructure for the organization, coordinated the organization’s first audit, communicated impact results to the community, and forged stronger bonds between board members. She also partnered with the board of directors to recruit the right CEO to fit the current and future direction of the organization. Maurine wrapped up her time as interim CEO in January 2019, overlapping her last month with the new CEO to facilitate a seamless transition.
In the end, the interim CEO option worked very well for UWGGC, paving the way for its future success