Replacing a Legend? Consider an Interim Solution

Image courtesy of Jim Bowen

Vince Lombardi is an American sports icon. 

Best known for leading the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls, Lombardi represents the gold standard of football coaches. The NFL even named its Super Bowl championship trophy after him.

But what about Phil Bengtson?

He’s the unlucky guy who got to succeed the legendary Lombardi as head coach of the Packers. Bengtson lasted three years in Green Bay. His team lost one more game than it won. *Note the statue of Lombardi in this blog post; no similar statue of Bengtson exists in the world.

Succeeding the legend can be an impossible task…and not just in football. It’s not unusual for an executive director hired after the departure of a legendary longtime ED to last two years or less. 

Why should you care?

Today, generational turnover means that hundreds of nonprofits, including camps, are grappling with the imminent departure of legendary leaders (often also founders) of their organizations. Succession planning is critical to a board’s preparation for replacing any executive director. The Annie E. Casey Foundation and CompassPoint offer a valuable guide to succession planning that’s a must read for you and your board members.

One strategy to consider: intentionally hire an Interim Executive. The Casey/CompassPoint research found “Groups that use an interim executive director emerge stronger, more financially sound, and with high levels of optimism.”
The Intentional Interim ought to be a serious option for any camp faced with losing a legendary leader. Interim leadership can benefit your organization in a number of ways:
  • It helps create some breathing space for an organization to separate from the departed executive director (ED).
  • An Interim ED can do an objective assessment with fresh perspective.
  • It gives staff a chance to surface issues they might not have felt comfortable airing previously.
  • The interim period creates the time needed to do the right kind of search for the next permanent ED.
If you’re looking at having to replace a longtime executive leader in the coming year or two, you and your board should discuss the benefits of intentionally choosing an Interim Executive.

You can find more about Interim Executives, along with some organizational case studies, in this resource from CompassPoint.

P.S. Often organizations facing the loss of a legendary leader think it’s a great idea to move the legend onto the organization’s board immediately. DON’T. It’s a terrible idea. At least talk to your JCamp 180 mentor before you make the decision.

Written by Dan Kirsch. Dan
is a Mentor with JCamp 180. Dan’s focus area at JCamp 180 is organizing our annual conference each year. Dan also provides guidance for a number of our other professional development programs and opportunities.

Who we are: JCamp 180 is a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (HGF). Our goal is to significantly enhance the long-term effectiveness of nonprofit Jewish camps in North America. To meet this goal, we provide affiliated Jewish camps with consulting services, annual conferences, shared resources, professional development, and matching grant opportunities. Find more at