Guest Blogger: Mary Ellen Clausen of Ophelia’s Place

Stabilizing change.

I’m in the middle of transition right now. In January of last year I decided it was time to step down as Executive Director of Ophelia’s Place, a non-profit I founded 10 years ago. So I hired a new Director, hosted a big party (cake and all) announced the change and headed to Arizona for a couple of weeks. Seriously.

I’d been talking about my “exit” strategy for quite some time. The problem with my exit strategy was that it had no strategy.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  Which meant I had no idea how to transition. So I started a blog, mostly to capture my thoughts and chaotic feelings. This is an excerpt:

This little non-profit has been my every waking and sleeping moment of the past 10 years of my life. It’s why I got out of bed and it’s why I stayed in bed.  It has simultaneously filled me and drained me, broken me and made me whole. I have run towards it and away from it. I have believed in it and doubted it.  I’ve cried, laughed and danced through it. I’ve been burdened and blessed by it. I’ve prayed for it and against it. My world expanded from it and my life got smaller from it. It was radically life changing. It was beautiful and ugly and sweet and bitter. It drew me closer to the center of dependence. It pushed me to rely more on God and less on me…most days. It saved me, cost me and healed me…again and again. And now I stand at the end of my something and wait.

Waiting was not getting me to where I needed to be and it certainly wasn’t helping the organization. According to the book “Non-Profit Lifecycles: Staged Based Wisdom for Non-Profit Capacity” (every non-profit should have at least one copy of this book along with a rainbow of highlighters and binding reinforcement tape) I was heading towards Founders Syndrome and my organization had one leg in all the 7 stages of growth. Needless to say it’s hard to stand on one leg… for any length of time.

Several years ago I had met with the Gifford Foundation and they invited me to apply for a grant.  We didn’t know what the grant was going to be for, so after lots of conversations, brainstorming sessions, lunches and monkey bread, they suggested I write a grant for a consultant.  Seriously?  They graciously pointed out what should have been obvious to me… I needed a strategy.

I interviewed a consultant (who also happened to be a psychologist-win win), wrote a grant and we are 3 months into this strategy and I’m actually transitioning!

Change can be hard.  Letting go of control is hard. I’m learning I need to get out of the way and not impede the process.  I’m learning to trust in the strength and wisdom of others who have been down this road.  And I’m learning that not everything is about me…there’s a great big community out there to help stabilize my wobbliness.

In the past month I’ve spoken with other founders, from Boulder to Austin, and discovered that I’m not alone.  We had some real, raw, safe and honest conversation about the challenges of transition. It was helpful to talk about it and lean on each other for insight and support.

So let’s start a conversation on a local level about what’s needed and how we can support each other through the trials and overwhelming obstacles of transitioning. It will be a place where we can ask those tough questions and help each other navigate the waters.  I would love to provide the space and the coffee.  Shoot me an email at if you’re interested.

She (the consultant) told me last week I needed to declare my actual transition date.

So I did.

And it feels right and beautiful and messy and brave and courageous and terrifying.

Mary Ellen Clausen, recipient of the 2012 "Kathy" Award

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