Have you signed your prenup yet?

No one likes to think about divorce, especially when they just got engaged! Yet, especially when the stakes are high (e.g, one person already has children, one person is much wealthier than the other), prenuptials are common. Why? Because divorce statistics, last time I checked, say you have about a 50% chance of divorce, and too much is at stake! Better to figure out ahead of time what a fair parting would look like, while everyone is still in love.

The statistics for sanctuary founders leaving their sanctuary someday are even worse…100% ultimately leave the sanctuary! Unless you are VERY different from the rest of us, someday you are going to die. And hopefully you are going to be replaced, so that your work will live on. So you need to plan for that. And set a good precedence by signing a prenuptial agreement with your board. The stakes couldn’t be any higher….the lives of the animals in your care and their well being is on the line.

While you may be 100% convinced that your Board will never fire you, I can give you a list of executive directors who thought the same; no, actually they KNEW FOR SURE that they would never be dismissed, and yet they got fired. In fact, the ones we tend to know of are often known for the very reason that it seems so unthinkable that it happened! Yet it did. So to protect you AND your nonprofit, it should be clear NOW, while everything is fine, what would happen if there were a falling out. As an added benefit, this will be in place for when you ARE replaced someday (100% guarantee you will leave someday, remember), and it may be needed then, for the next executive director may not work out for one reason or another. (You’ll be hard to replace!)

You are not off the hook, by the way, if you are an all volunteer director. As you read through the issues below, you will see that they apply to your situation, as well as to a paid director’s position.

Your prenup should cover items such as:

If you personally own the land and lease it to the nonprofit (you DO need a lease, even if the rent is $1 per year), does your firing mean the lease is broken? How much time is the nonprofit allowed to relocate the animals? How much access or interaction would you be allowed, if fired, with staff/volunteers on site, with the animals? What rules govern the nonprofit volunteers/staff coming on your property at that point? Are any of the animals your personal animals? How will their care be handled? Who pays if property gets damaged at that point?

Many of the same questions apply if the nonprofit owns the land and you live in a house on site, except the question is, how much time will you be given to vacate the premises? Is the lease (formal or part of your compensation) automatically brought to an end when you are terminated? What kind of repair state must you leave the house in? If your animals are on the premises, do they remain? Do you begin paying for their care? How long can they remain? How often can you visit?

Another consideration: How would a termination decision be reached? The more you iron out the process now, the less hard feelings there will be if it ever happens. To determine the best process, picture in your mind an evil successor who is pocketing donations. If illegal activity is suspected, how will the Board proceed? Is there an automatic suspension? In that case, what applies regarding land use/house use? If it is a matter of conflict (over productivity, skills, management style, decision making, etc), how will the Board proceed? A process can be set up for that scenario that includes an outside mediator or mediators, perhaps one even representing the voice of the animals, for long-term bonds may be at stake. The important thing is to agree in advance on a process and how it will be funded (if at all) and a time table.

Also to be considered are donor and funder relations. Should the executive director agree to certain terms about confidentiality and what will be announced to the public, in return for the Board adhering to the outlined termination process? (Get legal counsel on this one!)Under what circumstances would the executive director be released from those terms? And in any case, how long before the x-executive director can contact the donors to solicit funds for a new venture? What if the donors make the contact?

One special footnote: If you own the land and rent it to the nonprofit, what happens in the case of your sudden death? This needs to be clearly spelled out and a trust is usually more rock solid than a will. Make sure your appointed executor understands and agrees with the terms you have arrived at. If you have not set up a trust, you need to do so immediately. Otherwise, upon your death, your nonprofit may be on the 5 PM news, begging for foster homes, or frantically calling other sanctuaries, as your heirs may have given them 36 hours to get off the property.

These discussions can be time intensive, painful, and often require a legal eye to look over the final agreement. All that is hard to make time for.  But it is a small investment of time and money and emotion compared to what is spent dealing with a parting gone bad.

So, if you haven’t already done so, hammer out that prenup. It is a way of helping to insure that your nonprofit will always be there for the animals, and that any falling out will have minimal impact on the support for their care or the quality of their care. We owe them that.

Great resource on succession planning for you and your Board, full of PRACTICAL and EASY TIPS: http://www.help4nonprofits.com/NPLibrary/NP_Bd_SuccessionPlanning_Art.htm

To professionalize even more…
http://www.compasspoint.org/assets/526_buildingleaderfulorganiza.pdf