The Third Sector Company research team recently completed the first phase of the Improving Nonprofits by Tailoring and Expanding Resources for Interim Management (INTERIM) Project. Lead by Senior Research Strategist Scott Campanario, the team interviewed a number of nonprofit interim executives and leaders to shed light on resources and characteristics needed to further the profession. We asked Scott about some of his key findings and thoughts from the study. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: Why study this topic? How did you determine the questions you were going to answer with this study?
A: Originally, the study was a product of curiosity about what resources are most needed by interim executives and how we can tailor those resources to the unique contexts of interim executives. We were noticing that there were a number of resources that nonprofit interim professionals use in their work, but some resources are valued more than others. So, our thought was to see if we can help the most number of organizations and professionals by tailoring the resources to the needs of the interim. From there, we met to go through several iterations of what questions we planned to ask in our interviews—these meetings were often with our research advisory group, but at times included other off-hand conversations with the administrative team as well.
Q: How did you select the representatives from organizations to interview?
A: We used convenience sampling (i.e., reaching out to interim professionals through our networks). We tried to have a balance between those with little experience and those with a lot; as well as between those with strong ties to Third Sector Company and those who were not formally associated with our organization.
Q: How do you hope people benefit from this study?
A: One of the things we were intentional about up front in this first stage (the interviews) of the larger research program was that we wanted our research to be a service to the sector as a whole, not just our own organization. Upon receiving some preliminary feedback, the general consensus seemed to be that this research is valuable to nonprofit interim professionals as a conversation starter about their experiences, for nonprofit boards and organizations to raise awareness and educate about the interim leadership approach, and for other management service organizations hoping to provide resources that allow the nonprofit sector to thrive.
Q: Will these findings shape Third Sector Company’s future projects and initiatives?
A: That’s a tough one to answer because we still have so much research to do and data to analyze. Nonetheless, the interview stage of the larger INTERIM Project definitely helps us to better understand the people who make up this community. It gives us a picture of some of the things that motivate these individuals, the challenges that come along with a career as an interim executive, the economics of not only financial resources around interim work, but also of management resources—for instance, how communities share resources, what resources are needed most, and why those resources are needed. Overall, all of this information helps Third Sector to better understand how to help nonprofit interim professionals truly make a difference for their organizations.
Q: How do you think these findings can affect interim leadership and management as a whole?
A: I think a big part of it is just that these findings begin to help us better understand the experience of an interim professional. It builds an awareness and understanding of what these people go through in this line of work and what we can do to facilitate and support them in their work. Again, we’ll have much more to say when we have the data collected for the next stage of the INTERIM Project, but I think the overall effect is that we can better serve communities of interim professionals in their work with nonprofit organizations if we have a better understanding of who they are, what they experience in this work, and what support they need.
Q: What’s next after this study? What other questions are your team hoping to answer?
A; Loads of more questions! The interview study was just an initial stage of the research project. So, the study is not done yet—just the first stage is. We are looking forward to diving deeper into the data we get from the next step of the project, the survey. Some questions we’re hoping the survey helps us answer include:
- Which resources are most and least valued?
- Which challenges are most and least salient?
- How are those variables and challenges different for various interim professionals (by organization, by experience, by education, by network size)?
- How do nonprofit interims think about leadership and management?
Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?
A: It’s important to emphasize that this is a systematic approach to learning more about how we can help nonprofit interim professionals help their organizations. We were very intentional in wanting to not just do one study or survey; rather, we wanted to build a program of research that starts with qualitative interviews and builds to a national survey—that’s the “systematic” approach. Our belief is that this approach gives us a much more comprehensive picture of the situation which allows for much more comprehensive recommendations based on our findings.
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