By James G. Leipold
Friends, after 18 years I have made the decision to retire as NALP’s Executive Director in October of next year and I want to use this space to share some thoughts with you about my decision.
Let me start by saying that serving as NALP’s Executive Director truly has been a great personal joy and professional privilege. This is the best job I have ever had, and one that I have enjoyed thoroughly. The best part of this job has always been the NALP community. NALP members are awesome — generous, caring, smart, and hard-working! Through my time at NALP, I have come to know many of you personally, and count many, many NALP colleagues among my very closest friends. And we have done so much good work together.
Still, it will soon be time for me to go, a decision that is bittersweet but one about which I am completely confident.
After much reflection, I have come to a deep conviction that the best thing for NALP at this time, and for me personally, is to bring on new leadership. Nonprofits grow and thrive with a periodic renewal of leadership, as we see each year in the orderly transition of power on our volunteer governance front. By next fall, I will have been in this job more than 18 years, and it will be time for someone else to lead, and that is a very exciting prospect.
I’m also going to be turning 60 in a couple of months, and it feels like the right time to make a change. I’ve long planned to eventually retire to Santa Fe, and while I am not ready to completely retire from the world of work just yet, I do want to move to New Mexico while I am still young enough to make friends and establish a community there. My love affair with Santa Fe has been longstanding. I used the Weekly Industry News Digest to come out to you recently as a bit of an opera queen (it seems the process of coming out is never ending!). I began traveling to Santa Fe every summer years ago for the outdoor opera season there, spending my days hiking in the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains and wandering through art galleries, and my evenings at the open-air Santa Fe Opera House (and yes, Tony Waller, we tailgate at the opera in New Mexico).
As I wrestled with the many difficult challenges we have all faced since March 2020, I realized that I wanted to make this big change now and make Santa Fe more than just a place where I escape for vacation. Rather than traveling there seasonally for the opera, I’d like to be able to wake up every morning, sit on my porch, and sip my coffee in the high desert. In the coming months, I will be looking for new professional opportunities that I can engage in while living there, taking full advantage of our new ability to live and work from (almost) anywhere.
Foremost in my mind in planning for this transition has been the importance of leaving NALP in the best shape possible when I go, and despite the pandemic adversity, NALP is in great shape. Our financial house is in order, and we have the deepest reserves the association has ever enjoyed. The talent, commitment, and leadership skills of the NALP staff run deep. And the strong volunteer leadership and governance structures we have built together will serve NALP well into the future.
My retirement presents NALP with an exciting opportunity to reassess the association’s priorities, take stock of the new world we face in the aftermath of the pandemic, recommit to NALP’s core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, look for additional ways to increase member value, and infuse new leadership into the organization.
I have every confidence in the current Board of Directors to handle the search for my replacement with complete competence and professionalism. Hiring a new Executive Director is one of the primary responsibilities of a volunteer board, and it is one that not many boards get to exercise. It provides not only an opportunity to exhibit real leadership, but also an opportunity to perform a strategic assessment and reset for the organization as a whole, and to chart a new direction. Given all the trying events of the past 18 months, it is certainly a timely moment for the NALP Board and the organization to take a step back and ask what comes next.
The Board’s Executive Committee has already put tremendous time and effort into planning for this transition, in order to assure that the NALP Board and the Transition Task Force have all of the tools and resources they need to rise and meet this challenge with complete confidence. Tremendous thought, care, planning, and preparation have gone into this moment, and while it may feel a bit unsettling, please know that this transition will take place under the best possible circumstances, and we all expect the best possible outcome.
I remain grateful for your friendship and support and will continue to count on that friendship long after I am no longer NALP’s Executive Director. Besides, I’m not gone yet! This is not goodbye. I am looking forward to an exciting year of transitions and changes ahead and I hope to see many of you in person at our Annual Education Conference in New Orleans in April!
James G. Leipold is Executive Director of NALP. This article originally appeared as the From the Executive Director column in the December 2021 edition of NALP Bulletin+.