Lisa Cotton

For Lisa Cotton, co-founder and outgoing CEO of The Funding Network (TFN), the transition has been much harder than expected. Working closely with chair Mark Osborn and the board was crucial.

“I always knew this wasn’t forever,” says Cotton, who established TFN in 2012 to help grassroots charities grow through live crowdfunding events. “I’ve been around the not-for-profit sector for 15 years and seen founders staying on too long, when there needs to be more energy and a different approach as the organisation grows.

“We’ve gone from a startup to a thriving but lean organisation. Next is to exponentially grow it.”

Most boards are not focused on creating and maintaining a pool of high-quality potential successors nurtured within the organisation.

Cotton will step down in February after working with the board to develop a six-month transition plan. While she had input into the role description and KPIs, and shared her views about the recruitment company’s short list, she didn’t sit in on the interviews.

“It scares me to walk away from something I love. It’s really hard and emotionally draining. It’s absolutely the right thing to do, for me and for TFN, but I feel like I’m adopting out my baby.”

Mark Osborn had previously been involved in a CEO transition in a private business, which differed in that there was less emotion involved.

“Founders are very passionate, as there is normally a real emotional connection to the cause. That makes the board’s job more sensitive than in a private business.”

The TFN board also includes Marion Webster OAM, Anita Jacoby MAICD, Gemma Salteri, Roslyn Morgan and Shaun Kamler.

“Lisa had telegraphed that it was time to think about moving on. As a board, we needed to be sensitive to her founder status and give her room to set timing.”

He says it’s rare for a CEO and a founding CEO to have the self-awareness to pick their time. “It requires a lot of sensitivity to have those discussions and be transparent.”

The board went through a professional selection process and also met midyear to counsel Cotton to slow the pace of TFN’s expansion, enabling her to focus on getting the ship in order so the new CEO wasn’t confronted with too many issues.

Cotton hands over to new CEO Julie McDonald, previously with the Kolling Foundation, in early 2018.