A time will come within every organization, no matter the size, when an integral staff member takes leave or retires. If this happens (and it will), does your organization have a plan in place to quickly fill the position so that your organization’s mission and programs continue uninterrupted? Is there someone who has the experience and skills necessary that can be called upon so that the quality and effectiveness of operations doesn’t suffer? If you don’t, your organization may have significant exposure. We’ve seen it first hand, where an executive director or key program person has either left the organization or passed away unexpectedly, and the pursuing turnover has caused irreparable harm to the organization.

Succession planning can be referred to as a strategy and process whereby your organization’s employees (at all levels), have the requisite talents, skills, understanding, and training necessary to be able to step in and fill a position of risk, either on a permanent basis or on an interim basis while an appropriate successor can be hired. Having a succession plan in place helps to ensure the stability and sustainability of your organization. Here are a few key elements to succession planning:

Identify a Successor

It is vital to identify a successor for each key position in your organization. Having someone in line who has both the experience and skills necessary to fill the position and ensure day-to-day operations continue effectively, is critical.

Trainings and Career Development Opportunities

Appropriately cross-train your employees so that they have the knowledge, expertise, and skills that are necessary to fill critical positions should they become vacant. Having career development trainings will also enable management to outline a specific path that will ensure an employee is ready when the time is near. There have been studies performed that indicate that employees who are trained for the next position or opportunity have increased self-esteem and morale, as they know they have a purpose and upward mobility.

Develop and Foster a Mentor Program

Recognizing that people are the most important asset of your organization is essential; having in place a mentor program will help to connect these assets to your organization. Management can learn more about their staff and at the same time, identify each employee’s core strengths and build on them. More importantly, mentor programs should help to lower frustrations employees may have within the organization that may not be evident at a management level.


Management should look to assess their employees at all levels of the organization in terms of performance, strengths and weaknesses, and skill sets. You might find a shortage in the talent and skills the organization will need to function effectively if a key member were to leave the organization. If this is the case, you may want to go out and hire staff that possesses the attributes you need most, as it may take some time to train and strengthen these candidates to be future leaders.

Many times, succession planning is crucial to ensuring your organization can sustain significant internal changes. Several large, high-net-worth, companies have spent many years to develop a plan to ensure continuity of services while facing turnover in key positions. Companies such as IBM, McCormick & Co., and Barneys of New York had successors lined up years in advance, providing them with appropriate training and honing their talent through the years knowing the time would come when they would step into a leadership role. The plans these companies had in place, and the level of preparation invested by them over time, resulted in a smooth and beneficial transition. Focusing on the key strengths needed by the successors, brought these companies to greater heights and stronger leadership.

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This article was also featured in our newsletter NFP Advisor Vol. 18

Kenneth R. Cerini, CPA, CFP, FABFA

Kenneth R. Cerini, CPA, CFP, FABFA

Managing Partner

Ken is the Managing Partner of Cerini & Associates, LLP and is the executive responsible for the administration of our not-for-profit and educational provider practice groups. In addition to his extensive audit experience, Ken has been directly involved in providing consulting services for nonprofits and educational facilities of all sizes throughout New York State in such areas as cost reporting, financial analysis, Medicaid compliance, government audit representation, rate maximization, board training, budgeting and forecasting, and more.