Succession Planning… Preparing for New Leadership

10 Jan 2019

The statistic is that 75% of nonprofit executives plan to leave their organization within the next 10 years. As a result, succession planning needs to be taken into consideration in order to prepare for the inevitable transition. The board, members of management, and the current executive all need to be prepared for the change, while still keeping the organization running smoothly. Succession planning should be looked at as an opportunity. This is a time where the organization can refocus its values, while simultaneously strengthening the upper management team. The board should be very involved with the succession planning process. This gives them an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of what each person’s role is within the organization.

The main objective of the board is to determine who the next leader will be. This could happen by promoting from within or looking outside the organization for the right candidate. Each of these has its benefits, but ultimately, it should depend on the skillsets that currently reside within the organization. The board needs to identify what values they hope to see in the new leader, which may or may not be the same skills evident in the organization’s current leader. Organizations go through cycles within their development, with each cycle requiring different strengths from its leadership. For instance, an SED funded organization may look for someone with a strong educational background, or the ability to raise money, or with strong public sector connections.

The board should also analyze the salary for this position. In many cases, executives may be underpaid for the amount of work they perform on an everyday basis. This needs to be reviewed in order to find a suitable candidate to take over in this vital position. Sometimes the top executive may be taking on too many tasks. This should be factored in when reviewing comparable salaries. The organization depends on this leader and they will also be the face of the organization. These are some very important factors to take into consideration when preparing for the future.

The departing CEO has another key role in succession planning. It may be beneficial for this person to develop documents, such as a job description and a manual outlining procedures performed in order to provide a roadmap for the new incoming executive. The departing executive may want to give advice on who they believe is best suited for this role (this may be someone within the organization that has the ability to step in). This could help guide the board to plan as efficiently as possible. The departing executive should also prepare the senior management team by reviewing their day-to-day tasks and making sure they are able to get them done without leaning on the executive for help. This will ensure the organization can continue operations as normal while the new executive transitions into her/his role. Lastly, the departing CEO should confirm the organization has enough funds to cushion them through the transition. This will guarantee regular operations over the transition period.

For members of upper management, the goal should be to grow to become the future CEO of the provider. Both the board and the current CEO should work on this together. Having reviews and development planning for managers will better shape them to be future leaders. Identifying each person’s strengths and weaknesses is very important in showing them how to grow. Their progress should be monitored and feedback should be given consistently. This will give the board a clearer view of who is next in line to be a key executive.

When it comes to succession planning, many organizations put this off until it is too late. With proper succession planning, the organization will be prepared for new leadership, making the transition more seamless for everyone involved. Remember, life doesn’t always work as anticipated. By being prepared early on, this will ensure success with both an expected or unexpected change in leadership. Although succession planning is not at the top of most organizations list of priorities, it may be beneficial to take the time now to begin the process to prepare for the future.


This article was also featured in our newsletter Special Ed-ition Vol. 20