Nonprofits that are serious about their own sustainability should also be serious about planning for the smooth and thoughtful transition of their leadership. Whether a transition occurs due to an unexpected vacancy on the staff or Board, or the anticipated transition of a long-tenured leader, being ready with a plan in place can help a nonprofit weather the inevitable storms of leadership transition. An effective succession planning process requires collaboration between Board members, executives, and key staff members. To be most effective, the planning, if possible, should be completed in advance of any departures.
It is important for the Board members to secure the organization’s future by clarifying direction and ensuring strong leadership. Having a succession plan will help obtain strong Board members when they are needed. The Board should work together to develop and approve succession plans for various scenarios. It also may be of benefit to the Board to create a Board committee to address transitional issues in the case of an unexpected departure of an executive.
A key element to having a good succession plan is developing competency-based criteria to be used as a guideline for recruiting and electing Board members. These competencies can be grouped into universal competencies that all Board members should possess and essential collective competencies that one or more Board members bring to help the Board execute its responsibilities effectively. On at least an annual basis, the organization’s recruitment needs should be analyzed by reviewing the Board’s competencies that are in place, and looking to fill any gaps based on anticipated vacancies. A list of prospective members should also be maintained and updated as necessary so that interviews could be held when an opening arises. If the Board anticipates an opening within the next twelve months, recommendations should be made for a replacement as soon as possible.