Does Your Organization Have a Nonprofit Succession Planning Program in Place?
I am continually amazed at the growing number of nonprofits without an nonprofit succession planning program. This scenario applies not only to the CEO position but other key administrative positions. I am also referring to chief development officers. Running an effective nonprofit is difficult enough without having succession planning issues. You never know when a key executive will leave employment, and this surprise occurrence may be extremely costly to an organization. In my research, very few programs currently have a succession planning program in place.
According to Philanthropy News Digest, nearly a third of the nonprofit leaders in the New England region planned to leave their jobs within two years, and two thirds said they will leave their jobs in five years. Yet, 60 percent of the organizations in the survey by Third Sector New England said they did not have a formal succession plan in place.
As such, many nonprofits keep former executives in consulting roles while they search for a replacement. Barry Dym, executive director of Boston University’s Institute for Nonprofit Management and Leadership, said the difficulty is you will have a huge loss of leadership and institutional memory. The opportunity is you will eventually have young replacements that are better trained.
First Republic points out that research indicates nonprofits are poorly prepared for leadership transitions. According to a BoardSource 2017 Study, fewer than three in 10 have a succession plan in place, while 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each day. A well thought-out succession plan is a critical investment in the future of a nonprofit.
A succession plan provides a path forward in times of change. It also maintains long-term stability, sustainability and directional continuity. Prepare for the expected by keeping key leadership in place. Keep a leadership succession plan in place that takes all C-level and director-level positions into account. Plan for the unexpected. such as immediate retirements, career ending illness of disability, death, bad actor or new leaders who are not cultural fits within the organization.
According to Third Sector Company, succession plans are crucial. “The Daring to Lead Study” noted that, in a recent survey only, 17 percent of 3,000 nonprofit organizations had a succession plan. Succession, like fundraising, is an integral piece of a successful nonprofit’s organization.
Six crucial attributes of a successful organization that values succession planning are:
- Assure continuity of good leadership.
- Completing an operations plan each year.
- Maintain a board approved succession policy.
- Maintain human resources competencies.
- Managing a strategic plan.
- Assigning key people performance objectives.
Core Corporate Consulting’s “Succession Planning for Nonprofits” paper asked the question: What would happen in your organization if one of your key associates were to leave tomorrow? Peter Drucker observed that strategy is any commitment of present resources to future expectations. It is important that all nonprofits use present resources such as staff, board, time and funding to engage into a strategic future look and develop a plan of succession. It will enable the organization to remain strong and committed to its mission up to and through the expected change of leadership. Succession planning is a process that engages all aspects and people associated with the organization.
The checklist for a robust succession plan includes assessing the current culture, determine key priorities and build consensus, analyze skills and attributes required for positions, identify strengths and weaknesses in current team, determine strategic leader development, and focus on contingency planning. You should start a contingency planning process now if you do not have one in place.
Aly Sterling indicates that if you have a nonprofit succession plan in place before you face a transition, you will always know what next steps to take when a transition occurs.
The succession planning process should comprise the following key steps:
- Assess what vacancies your nonprofit succession plan will address.
- Align an internal vision for your nonprofit succession plan.
- Begin cultivating internal talent for future transitions.
- Outline the executive search phase of your nonprofit succession plan.
- Transition the individual into their role at your nonprofit.
It is critical that your organization realizes the importance of having a succession planning process. It is just like having a strategic or operational plan. These building blocks are the foundation of your organization. Leadership will change over time. The type of leader needed for your organization will vary, depending on the life cycle of your organization. Be proactive in the succession planning process. If done correctly, transitions will be smoother, less costly and disruptive to the organization. Build this process into your organizational culture. It is imperative that you have a succession planning program.
Do you currently have a succession planning program in place? If not, begin this process at once.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.