Transitioning From Buddy to Boss

staff retention tips and resources

It can happen fast – and you might have less time than you think. Opinions about you can form quickly, sometimes before you even have a chance to pack up your desk and move offices.

Promotions within the nonprofit world can often create a number of changes. And, in some cases, staff members may shift how they view you in your new role.

The transition from buddy to boss can be a simple process, accomplished at a steady, smooth pace that works for everyone involved. First, it’s crucial to set clear expectations from everyone involved right from the start. Keep in mind that all is not quite smooth sailing ahead, even with clear roles defined for both you and for them.

The next step is to share expectations of not what, but how, they should be doing their job and to strive for those same expectations from your own boss (or Board of Directors).


To Coddle or Not to Coddle?

We all know that nonprofits tend to attract workers who don’t have “money” on their list of number one motivators. In fact, too many individuals, often think what’s more important is making the world a better place, as well as recognition, or the genuine feeling that they are indeed making a difference.

As a result of these different priorities, some leaders feel the need to “buddy up” with their co-workers.

While a little bit of coddling and buddying up is okay, I think there’s a certain balance that needs to be met. Remember, you are still the boss. Furthermore, it’s important to hold team members accountable for making that world a better place and helping to make your mission come alive.

I often make the following comparison to our clients: “You hear people say don’t be your kid’s friend, be their parent.” This holds the same when it comes to nonprofit office relationships. Yes, it’s great to be supportive, and it’s even better to listen. However, at the end of the day, your employees should still have goals and objectives clearly written out and agreed upon by all parties involved year after year.


Don’t Forget Boundaries

After transitioning from buddy to boss, it’s important to understand that you can still be friendly with staff members, attend their team-building lunches and dinners, and even have personal relationships outside the office.

But, when it comes to interactions and communications inside the office, certain boundaries must be respected in order to protect the integrity of the organization’s goals.

Finally, remember, your transition to being accepted as a “boss” isn’t a race. It’s important to exercise patience with employee acceptance and never attempt to rush team members through the change process. Expect that parts of the transition will naturally happen fast, but just as with your expectations, you should align your pace with that of those you are now leading.


On average, new IPM clients see a 34.8% increase in direct mail fundraising acquisition response rates within the first year of working with us. Want to learn more?

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