Are You Prepared For The Inevitable?
At some point, your organization’s executive director will separate from your organization. In most instances, it will be voluntary. In some, it will not. In all cases, it is foreseeable and, therefore, there is no excuse for a board not to be prepared for that day.
Succession planning is a key to sound nonprofit management. At a minimum, a well-conceived succession plan will ensure that a nonprofit organization weathers the inevitable executive transitions. If used well, though, this planning can also position your organization to maximize the opportunities presented during challenging times.
In my experience, most boards delay succession planning because they think they have a good read on how long the current executive director will govern; they rarely do. Oftentimes, executives themselves are ambivalent about whether to stay or go. Based on its core duty to ensure the continuity of the organization, boards of directors–not executive directors–are ultimately responsible for an organization’s succession planning.
More sophisticated organizations will want a comprehensive succession plan addressing a full range of issues and contingencies. (This is beyond the space this post provides.) But for those organizations with fewer resources, I recommend at least an emergency succession plan. This document would possess such information as:
- The process to be followed upon the unplanned departure of the executive director, including the naming of an Acting Director and the scope of his/her authority, as well as the rest of the temporary leadership structure.
- The core elements of a communications plan to be implemented at the time of an unplanned departure including who is to be contacted (staff, major donors/funders, members, government officials, other key external stakeholders, etc.), by whom, and the process by which talking points shall be agreed upon.
- The board’s role in the oversight of the temporary leadership structure during the period of transition.
It is a sound idea to have basic operational documentation accompany this plan such as:
- Organizational information
- Financial/Bank information
- Human resource information
- Legal information
- Facilities information
Succession planning is among the services provided by New Chapter Coaching. See list of Our Services on home page. So if your organization doesn’t have a succession plan, contact me and let’s talk! Change is in the air and you want to be prepared.
For more statistical information on executive transition and related issues, see Daring to Lead 2006, A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership.