Intermediary Organizations: Reasons they Fail, Reasons they Succeed

The final edition of my interview with Sam Piha, a veteran of the afterschool field and founder of Temescal Associates, who recently developed a paper on intermediaries for Putnam Consulting Group and The Cleveland Foundation.  See a list of the previous questions and answers posted below.

  • Important Characteristics of an Intermediary Organization
  • The Importance of Intermediary Organizations to Implementing Community Initiatives
  • Functions & Challenges of Intermediary Organizations

Piha: What do you believe are the most common reasons that intermediary organizations fail? Succeed?

Pittman: When we’ve seen failure or stagnation, it’s usually because the key staff position was badly filled.  There may have been other staff who were competent, but when the leadership position was given to the wrong person, nothing got done.  This position, when filled correctly, is the main reason why the intermediary succeeds, assuming that there is adequate funding and a respectful governing board.  Some people think non-profit boards are too slow to take corrective action to remove an ineffective CEO.  Initiative governing boards are easily twice as slow.  There are three reasons for this:   a) it often is not clear that they have the authority to do so since they hired the backbone organization, not the staff director, b) it often is not clear what success looks like, this is such new work, there are not clear benchmarks, c) it is often politically awkward to do so.  We strongly recommend that 3-month, 6 month, 1 year performance criteria be developed for both the backbone organization and the staff director.