Keep Your Non-Profit Afloat With A Leadership Succession Plan

If your top executive were to step down tomorrow, would your non-profit know how to make a smooth leadership transition or would your boat suddenly be rudderless? Research by the non-profit BoardSource has found that only 27 percent of charitable organizations have written succession plans. Most non-profits, therefore, face an uncertain future — one that could include lost funding, program disruption, and even an early demise.

Fortunately, creating a succession plan is not as difficult as you might think. An experienced advisor can guide you through the process. But there are several points for you and your board to keep in mind as you establish policies for replacing leaders.

Do not make assumptions

Ideally, any succession will be planned and allow for time to identify and recruit a successor and move that person into the job. If you do not already, start developing employees who can move up the ladder when an executive director or other senior manager leaves.

However, promoting from within can be difficult for some organizations, particularly smaller ones with limited ‘bench strength.’ In addition, your non-profit may require an executive director who is already experienced in running a non-profit or comes with specific skills. So, you cannot rule out hiring an outsider.

Indeed, do not assume that your next executive needs to be as similar as possible to the outgoing one. Your non-profit and its constituencies may change over time. Succession planning provides a great opportunity to reevaluate your strategies and identify new qualities that will be important going forward.

Another thing to keep in mind: not all successions are planned. A sudden departure due to illness or death can be particularly challenging for the staff and other stakeholders left behind. Outline policies for communicating with donors, clients, and the press if a leadership emergency arises, as well as steps your board should take to put in place a temporary leader and find a permanent replacement.

Start with a strong organization

Your succession plan will only be as effective as the organization that makes it. Among other things, you need a functional board, dependable funding sources, well-run programs, and a dedicated staff that can handle change. Solid systems and well-documented procedures can help you leverage organizational knowledge and keep your non-profit running smoothly during leadership transitions. Contact us for help planning for succession and to strengthen your current operations.

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