Develop a Nonprofit Leadership Transition Plan
I have represented nonprofit organizations throughout the years. In those years, I have witnessed several leadership transitions. One university president retired, and a year before retirement, a new executive vice president was put in place to be president to succeed the president. Other universities showed no plans for leadership transitions. One hospital system had a transition plan in place when the president gave a three-year advance notice of retirement. Another hospital system hired five presidents in an eight-year period. Survival in the office was the theme as opposed to orderly transitions. Several other nonprofit organizations did not have any leadership transitional plans in place.
In 2017, it was estimated that 75% of U.S. nonprofit leaders were planning to leave their positions between this year and 2027. A modest estimation had 500,000 executives potentially exiting their positions by 2033. About 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age every day. Studies have indicated that almost 80,000 new senior level nonprofit managers will need to be employed annually, but the sector is currently not prepared for this leadership gap.
Nonprofit board members are typically not ready to lead the succession planning. With no succession plan in place, there may be a long gap in leadership before another executive is on board since there is a diminished supply of those willing to step up to a leadership role.
Nonprofits should manage leadership transitions in advance in case there are unexpected departures. BoardSource research indicates only 27% of nonprofits surveyed reported having a written succession plan in place. This plan is critical, especially in today’s challenging world.
The National Council of Nonprofits offered these 10 planning tips for leadership transition:
- Gain the commitment of the board and staff.
- Identify current challenges and leadership qualities needed going forward.
- Consider placing an interim leader at the helm.
- Draft a timeline for planned leadership transitions.
- Adopt an emergency leadership transition plan.
- Identify leadership development opportunities for staff and board members.
- Crosstrain current staff members.
- Coach, mentor and define goals for new employees.
- Plan communications for transition of leadership.
- Help board chairs and chief staff leaders feel confident.
Recruiting a new leader could take months, so if an opening occurs, allocate one week to create a post for the open position, one to two months to post the open position, one to three months to interview and check references and four to six weeks to onboard and train the new hire. The lack of transparency can make constituents uneasy. When a leader leaves, internal and external stakeholders need to deliver the same message. Work on internal messaging and move toward public relations messages. It is important that the timeline for transition and any interim shifts be known. Make sure your leadership situation is shown in the best light possible.
It is important to note that both departing and incoming leaders have a significant role to play. Incoming leaders should expect growing pains, make sure roles are clearly delineated, establish open communication with staff, learn from the outgoing leader, make decisions and changes, and communicate with the board and outgoing leader if leadership overlap is not working. Meanwhile, outgoing leaders should give advance notice to the board and staff, hand off donor and community relationships, transfer knowledge to the incoming leader, and place the organization interests ahead of their self-interest.
Nonprofit organizational leadership transitions across the United States currently represent a mixed bag. Organizations need to take this concept very seriously. Leaders can make or break an organization. I strongly recommend that you begin to create your leadership transition program today. The leader of tomorrow will not be the leader of today. Seek best-of-class examples to assist in this effort. Your organization will benefit from this priority.
Duke Haddad, Ed.D., CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis. He also serves as president of Duke Haddad and Associates LLC and is a freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO since 2008.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration plus a dissertation on donor characteristics. He received a master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis on public administration plus a thesis on annual fund analysis. He secured a bachelor’s degree (cum laude) with an emphasis on marketing/management. He has done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
Duke has received the Fundraising Executive of the Year Award, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Indiana Chapter. He also was given the Outstanding West Virginian Award, Kentucky Colonel Award and Sagamore of the Wabash Award from the governors of West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, respectively, for his many career contributions in the field of philanthropy. He has maintained a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation for three decades.