I’m excited to lead a discussion on Leadership Succession Planning for Wegner CPAs Nonprofit Roundtable, in Milwaukee on October 15, and the subject of succession planning has led me to reflect on my past experience as an executive director of five different nonprofits.
Unsurprisingly, not one of those organizations had a succession plan in place before I departed. In one instance, a successor was named before I departed. In another, I was able to help identify an interim executive director before leaving.
In all of these situations, my departure was disruptive for the organization, not because I wasn’t replaceable, but because change in leadership is disruptive. Having a plan in place would have lessened that disruption.
CompassPoint Nonprofit Services has published many resources on Executive Transition and I have found “Building Leaderful Organizations: Succession Planning for Nonprofits” to be a very informative guide to preparing for the inevitable…leadership transition!
Tim Wolfred cites three types of succession plans:
1. Strategic Leader Development
2. Emergency Succession
3. Departure-defined Succession
Each of these approaches start with building leadership within the organization. Disruption is minimized when successors come from within the organization. Here are some key questions to gauge how prepared your organization is for leadership transition:
1. Does your organization have a strategic plan that includes staff leadership development?
2. Is the board evaluating the executive annually? Does it understand the scope of the position?
3. Do the executive director direct reports receive evaluations and are they solidly performing?
4. Is the top management team high performing and capable to lead the organization in the absence of the executive?
5. Are key external relationships shared beyond the executive – with either another staff person or board member?
6. Do the organizational financial systems meet industry standards and are reports generated regularly for board and staff?
7. Do operating manuals and personnel policies exist? Are they easily accessible and up to date?
8. Have top program staff documented key duties in writing and identified another staff person to assume duties in an emergency?
If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, you are miles ahead of the majority of nonprofits. You can then focus on building the leadership throughout your organization through targeted professional development plans and documented emergency succession plans. If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you have a place to start to build the organization’s capacity for transition.
Don’t wait until you or your Executive Director have one foot out the door. Your organization will be in much better shape if you plan for the transition. That is the type of legacy all leaders want to leave.
What advice do you have for nonprofits facing a leadership transition?