Committed to Transparency, APCH Pulls Back the Curtain on Leadership Transitions in the Nonprofit Sector through this Limited Blog Series
If you’re reading this you’re likely already a member of our APCH extended family and you are aware of the upcoming transition of our beloved CEO Jonathan Zeichner. What you may not know is that Jonathan’s departure from APCH is one of dozens of important leadership transitions that will impact the Los Angeles nonprofit sector over the next several years.
True to APCH’s commitment to transparency as a core value, Jonathan, the Board, and senior staff have spent a year engaged in conversations and planning for leadership transition in alignment with our mission, and have partnered with colleagues and advisors to determine what APCH will need to continue thriving into its next chapter. It has been a wholehearted effort that will continue in the hands of the new CEO, senior management team and Board.
As part of this open process, we have created this space for our leadership, beginning with Jonathan, to speak directly to our community.
Part 1: My Reasons for Leaving APCH and The Job That I Love So Much
by Jonathan Zeichner, CEO of A Place Called Home
Stardate: 2022.3.16 Days to Transition: 106
Being a nonprofit CEO is all-consuming. It’s one of those jobs you can’t fully comprehend until you’ve done it. And, it never “settles down,” but instead just keeps growing and evolving to respond to the changing world and meet the emerging needs of your organization’s constituency. It’s engaging, exciting, stimulating, risky, there’s never a dull moment, and it demands all the time, effort and energy you’ve got, and then some. In short, it’s an adventure! At least, that’s been my experience (ask my wife) over the past 30 years of running three different nonprofits in Los Angeles, one of which I co-founded.
I’ve been the CEO at A Place Called Home (apch.org) since 2009, and what a wonderful and productive experience it has been. The organization has a deep and impactful mission and it attracts nothing but great people, so for 13 years I have had the honor and pleasure of working with hundreds of extraordinary board members, staff members, volunteers, community partners, and supporters in service to thousands of young people and families, daily tilting against windmills, overcoming obstacles, and beating the odds countless times. It’s been an absolute labor of love for which I have bounded out of bed every day to get to work. Even on those tough days when a truck full of fresh challenges pulls up to the curb, I have felt the thrill of being in the right place at the right time to do that most fundamental thing that makes life fulfilling… just make myself useful.
Still, just under two years ago, I found myself beginning to think about what it would look like and feel like to leave this job and organization that I love. The reasons were compound. Sure, there were those long held yearnings to get back to personal pursuits I had set aside for years; my writing, music, getting my hands in the dirt, and working with wood. Additionally, there were needs emerging in my family that I knew would demand more of my attention. But, there were also two other factors that crystalized my decision:
- I had the clear sense that, while I had been the right person during a critical and dynamic era for APCH, that after 13 years there was new set of needs emerging for the organization’s future that would require fresh vision and skills, and;
- As illuminated and magnified by Covid’s global pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, there are persistent human rights deficiencies, inequities and obstacles that plague most institutions. The nonprofit sector, while well-meaning and better than many other industries, is not exempt from these kinds of problems. Having worked for years to hone APCH’s ability to “walk its talk” and manifest an organizational culture that lived up to its core values, I realized that I had been preparing myself to be useful to the sector in some very specific ways, and that excited me. The time had come to initiate thoughtful and consequential change.
Over December of 2020 and January of 2021, I informed APCH’s board of directors and staff that I would be transitioning out of the CEO role in July 2022. Then began the strategic, loving and bittersweet process of laying track for change. We began defining clear intentions and systems to support the transition, including setting the bar for the next CEO. For the past 14 months, every structural improvement, cultural nuance, leadership retreat, board meeting, strategic planning session, and budget projection has been informed by the coming change. Covid has added a layer of urgency and need, and APCH has stepped up to innovate in ways that will impact its entire service model going forward. I am getting the extra fulfillment of being able to initiate several exciting innovations during my final months at APCH. It’s been a demanding, dynamic, joyful and productive time, and I am grateful to/very proud of everyone involved.
In January, 2022, my departure was announced publicly and we launched the formal search for my successor. The search is in full swing now, and includes lots of stakeholder input and senior staff involvement. The Board Search Committee is working with Envision Consulting, and I am involved at strategic junctures and will continue to be supportive after the hire is made.
But… guess what? The path to leadership transition in the nonprofit world is bumpy and fraught with hazards. You can read more about those and get some unvarnished perspectives from me and a few colleagues who will be guest contributors to the April installment of this blog.
To be continued….