Thank you to National Council of Nonprofits for sharing:
Nonprofits that are serious about their own sustainability will also be serious about planning for smooth and thoughtful transitions of leadership – as well as making sure their nonprofit is prepared for unexpected departures. Unfortunately, according to BoardSource’s research, only 27% of nonprofits surveyed reported that they had a written succession plan in place. Whether a transition occurs due to an unexpected vacancy on the staff or board, or the anticipated transition of a long-tenured leader, being deliberative and thoughtful, and having a plan in place, can help a nonprofit weather the inevitable challenges of leadership transition.
Ten Planning Tips for Leadership Transition
- Gain the commitment of board and staff to manage transition intentionally.
- Identify current challenges and those that lie ahead, and the corresponding leadership qualities that are needed to navigate the challenges successfully.
- Consider whether placing an interim leader at the helm is the right path for your nonprofit.
- Draft a timeline for leadership successions that are planned.
- Adopt an Emergency Leadership Transition Plan to address the timely delegation of duties and authority whenever there is an unexpected transition or interruption in key leadership.
- Identify leadership development opportunities for staff and board members to expand their leadership skills so that the organization will have a “deeper bench” of future leaders.
- Cross-train current staff to minimize the disruption from unexpected staffing changes.
- Make plans to adequately support newly-placed employees, such as with coaching, mentoring, and defining goals.
- Communicate: What will your organization say to stakeholders before, during, and after a transition of leadership? Thoughtful communications are needed in order to support the staff and organization during the transition process.
- On board deliberately: Help new board chairs and chief staff leaders feel confident and find their own voices.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PLANNING FOR TRANSITIONS OF LEADERSHIP?
Leaders who care about sustainability pay attention to ways they can support their own succession. Here are six strategies worth reflecting on by those leaders who are planning their nonprofit’s journey towards a new leader.
A committee of the board, such as the “board development” or board governance” committee will generally focus on leadership succession at the board level, while staff leaders are most often charged with identifying transition plans for staff’s leadership succession. Because the board is ultimately responsible for oversight of the executive director, typically it is also the board’s role to initiate succession planning for the executive director/CEO. Board members invest lots of energy and time supporting the chief staff leader – it’s their fiduciary responsibility to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organization – which can depend on there being the “right” leader in place. Help boards understand that succession planning is not just “making a plan.” It’s a risk management strategy to ensure the sustainability of the organization.
Departing leaders need some love, too. By helping the departing leader leave well, the board is doing the organization a huge favor, and paving the way for a smooth on-boarding experience for the new leader.
Emergency Succession Planning
Every nonprofit needs a plan to deal with an unexpected event, such as the unexpected departure of key leaders.
- The Nonprofit-Executive Succession Planning Toolkit offers guidance on emergency and planned successions. (Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City)
Why is succession planning important to grantmakers?
Leadership transitions can leave organization vulnerable to environmental stresses, such as a loss of external funding because a long-time donor is taking a “wait and see” approach to the new leadership, or such as the loss of institutional knowledge when a long-tenured leader takes information with her about relationships or other expertise.
Grantmakers can play a critical role in helping nonprofits prepare for, or helping support them during a transition of leadership.
- Philanthropy’s Role in Succession Planning: How Funders Can Assist Grantee Organizations in Preparing for Leadership Change reports how funders have built nonprofits’ capacity to prepare themselves for leadership succession and transitions.
The good news is that there is a growing body of know-how and variety of useful resources to get you started, including Center for New Leaderships consultants who can support you with tour succession planning!
- Vermont Nonprofit Wages and Benefits Report
- Nonprofit-Executive Succession Planning toolkit (Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City/Denver/Oklahoma City/Omaha)
- Graceful Exit : Succession planning for high-performing CEOs (Leap of Reason Ambassadors Community)
- How and why to hire an interim executive director (North Carolina Center for Nonprofits)
- Transition planning timeline (BoardSource)
- When Leaders Leave (Rosenwald)
- Mission-Driven Executive Transitions Toolkit – free – great for the board! (Maine Association of Nonprofits)
- Mission Driven Leadershift Resources – free! including resources for departing executive directors (Maine Association of Nonprofits)
- When to hire an interim development director (Nonprofit Association of Oregon)
- Exit planing for retiring nonprofit CEOs (BoardSource)
- Communicating a planned transition (BoardSource)
- Onboarding the new CEO (Eugene H. Fram)
- Chief Executive Transitions – How to hire and support a nonprofit CEO (BoardSource)
- Six Strategies for Nonprofit Leadership Transition (SSIR)
- A Practical Guide to CEO Succession Planning (Russell Reynolds)
- Succession planning for the non-profit board chair (Social Venture Partners)
- Leadership New England – Report on leadership transition in New England nonprofits (Third Sector New England)
- Founder Transitions: Creating Good Endings and New Beginnings (Annie E Casey Foundation)
- Stepping Up, Staying Engaged (Annie E Casey)
- Succession planning for nonprofits of all sizes (Blue Avocado)
- Voices from the field: the story of one leader’s transition (Nancy Keiling, former President, Princeton Area Community Foundation)
- Twelve ways to get a new executive director off on the right foot (Blue Avocado)
- Sustainability, succession, and transition planning (Raffa, slideshare presentation )
- Executive Succession Planning (Tom Adams/BoardSource)
- More publications on leadership succession and succession planning (Raffa)
- Succession planning should not be taboo (National Council of Nonprofits blog post)
- Facing the Future (National Council of Nonprofits blog post)
- Planning for leadership succession emergencies (Nonprofit Quarterly)
- The importance of linking leadership/succession/strategy/governance (Nonprofit Quarterly)
- Blending nonprofit succession planning and executive transition (Nonprofit Quarterly)
- From enterprise risk management to shared leadership: a different look at succession planning(Nonprofit Quarterly)
- Long list of succession planning tips/ideas (Wild Apricot)