Succession Planning

The executive director transition is a pivotal moment for an organization, providing either a moment for positive transformative change or a moment that exposes poor planning for such a transition. Considering that an executive director can impact a wide array of factors from donor relations to the day-to-day operations, organizations will certainly prefer the former situation. In their article, “Succession Planning for Nonprofits of All Sizes,” Jan Masaoka and Tim Wolfred discuss strategies for implementing succession planning, “thinking in advance about how to set the stage for a strong [executive director] transition.”

Masaoka and Wolfred urge all organizations to address this topic regardless of whether the organization expects a transition to occur in the near future. The bottom line is this is an inevitable occurrence and organizations can and should take preemptive steps now by creating short and long-term plans that will prepare them and increase the likelihood of a positive transition.

Short-term plans include the emergency or contingency plan if the executive is suddenly unable to serve. An organization must address questions such as:

  • Is it clear to everyone who will be the Acting Executive Board until the Board can meet and decide?
  • Who will speak to the press?
  • Who will be responsible for each critical function of the executive job?

Longer-term planning will ask the tough questions that address issues and foreseeable problems with the organization’s current scheme:

  • Is the Board of Directors well equipped to hire a new executive?
  • Is the executive director’s job doable?
  • Is the salary at the right amount to recruit qualified candidates?
  • Can you cover a fundraising dip?
  • Are there obvious candidates for the job?
  • When was the last time succession was on the Board meeting agenda?

To read Masaoka and Wolfred’s article in full, click here.

An example of an emergency succession plan can be found here.

To learn more about the three forms of succession planning, read Wolfred’s “Building Leaderful Organizations: Succession Planning for Nonprofits”.

– Emily Chan