When Big Ideas Won’t Leave You Alone
Sometimes, your dream gets bigger than your dream job. Curt Klotz discusses his big idea and his decision to leave Propel Nonprofits to step into the next calling.
I’ve reached a notable point in my career. I have a role that perfectly matches my years of experience in nonprofit finance with my belief in the nonprofit sector’s power to transform communities. I work with an inspirational boss, Kate Barr, who through her own drive and dedication to nonprofits stirs me to continuously expand my thinking and my efforts. I am surrounded by a brilliant group of colleagues whose fervor to serve nonprofits makes evident the best our sector has to offer. Nearly every day I get to work with some devoted nonprofit leader or socially-aware donor or steadfast board member who shares the same enthusiasm for changing our world that I do. Imagine my consternation over the past few months when the persistent thought began to arise: it’s time for me to move on.
A decision this momentous wasn’t tidy or quick. It didn’t develop in a vacuum. I’ve had a vision brewing for a large-scale nonprofit accounting education project for nearly three years – a finance-focused succession plan for the nonprofit sector. It’s a project I feel compelled to begin, but it bears all the risk of any untested dream. Who will I find to partner in the work? What kind of organization or institution is the right platform? Having a big idea is one thing, but having it lead to a decision to leave my job is another.
A Succession Plan for the Sector
The big idea surfaced (announced itself to me, really) a couple of years ago and my colleagues encouraged me to begin meeting with other nonprofit leaders, finance professionals, and faculty from local colleges to explore the concept. I was glad to get an enthusiastic response. A few months later we entered into the merger that created Propel Nonprofits and, out of necessity, I had to put the idea on hold. It turns out that a merger is a major undertaking and requires a good bit of the CFO’s attention. Only recently has my thinking and planning and dreaming been free to re-emerge.
The idea of a succession plan for the sector emerged from my professional and personal experience. The need for more well-trained, talented nonprofit accounting staff is obvious to those of us in the field, though this is more than just the usual concern over pending retirements. My recurring vision is grounded in a commitment to racial equity gained by years working for and immersing myself in diverse organizations and communities. Our sector (like our society) does not reflect the changing demographics of our country. It is naïve to think we simply need to recruit and place more diverse candidates into nonprofit accounting jobs. It will take commitment to build systems of support for persons of color who enter the nonprofit finance profession. At the same time, we’ll need to challenge and develop the organizations and individuals for whom they will work to overcome institutional barriers to success.
No matter how energizing a vision is, it’s hard to leave the known for the unknown. Once the uncertainty and pondering were replaced by a steady acceptance, my decision was clear. I needed to talk with Kate. Not to resign so much as to share the process and ask for guidance. The moment certainly carried an emotional charge for both of us. How could it not, given years of intense and successful work together. While an unconventional process – I don’t yet know what the next steps look like, only that this vision needs more attention and energy – my decision to leave deserved more consideration than simply giving a few weeks’ notice. True to Kate’s leadership style and a great mutual respect, she accepted my decision with appreciation for the process I was going through and has supported me personally in discerning what the next steps would be.
Kate also held up the needs of Propel Nonprofits. Together we decided to craft a succession plan rather than a resignation announcement. As part of this plan, I’ll continue at Propel Nonprofits through this fall. The position opening will be posted next week; watch for it and help us spread the word. Truly, it’s an amazing job with an amazing organization.
Over the past few years, I’ve been talking to a lot of people who affirm the need for a more purposeful transfer of financial knowledge and power and are enthusiastic about my vision. Having made the decision and taken the first few steps toward this big idea, I continue to grow more excited about this new adventure. At the same time, my enthusiasm for what’s next doesn’t diminish my appreciation for the hundreds of exemplary nonprofit clients, leaders, staff, board members, foundation officers, investors, and donors I’ve had the great pleasure of partnering with over my years at Propel Nonprofits. As I wrap up my time here, I remain as grateful as ever to the leadership, staff, and board for entrusting me with what I’ve always called my “dream job,” and for the support from them and so many others as I follow where the dream leads next.