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Is Your Nonprofit Prepared for an Executive Transition? Key Considerations to Kickstart Nonprofit Succession Planning

In a nonprofit organization, the board of directors is the fiduciary responsible for mission fulfillment, financial accountability, and sustainability. A key part of fulfilling these responsibilities is having an effective plan for continuity of leadership.

Does your organization have a succession plan for the executive director? How about a plan for board members?

While succession planning is a key aspect of Enterprise Risk Management in for-profit entities, generally, only one in four nonprofits have planned for changes in leadership. Being proactive with succession planning allows time to address key factors and formulate an effective plan. This allows your organization to avoid scrambling to fill a role, and instead, strategically develop a recruitment and hiring process, avoiding the common pitfalls and consequences of a rushed plan of action.

Identify and assess changes

The first step in developing a succession plan for your nonprofit is to identify and assess changes in the organization’s mission impact, capacity, financial strength, culture, and staffing to define what is needed in the next leader. Some questions you may address include:

  • Is the current organizational structure still the best fit?
  • Is the staffing level and assignment of job responsibilities in alignment with the current strategic plan?
  • Is the current culture conducive to employee satisfaction and retention?

Identify skills and create a timeline

After assessing the nonprofit environment, identify the leadership traits, skills, and expertise needed in the next Executive Director and create a timeline and plan for recruiting. Some key considerations for this step include:

  • What changes are needed in the job description?
  • Will the nonprofit conduct its own search or hire a professional?
  • How much time and money are needed for a comprehensive search and interview process?
  • Who will be part of the search committee?
  • What screening tools and evaluation criteria will be used to rank the candidates?
  • What will be the staff’s role in the process?
  • Will the selected candidate work with the current executive director for an orientation period?

Create a board matrix

Generally, changes in board members are more frequent, and as a result, this requires continuous succession planning.  One essential tool for this process is a board matrix. Current board members are listed at the top of the columns and the rows are a list of how each board member brings value to the board.

  • What skills, experience, connections, and expertise should be included in the matrix?
  • Does the matrix also document demographic information such as age, race, and gender to ensure board diversity?
  • Does the matrix ultimately reflect the nonprofit’s values?
  • Using the matrix, what is needed?
  • What are the expectations for each board member’s participation in identifying and recruiting board members?
  • Are there at least three potential candidates in the pipeline to fill the next open spot?

These considerations are meant only as starting point for developing an effective succession plan for your nonprofit. However, a variety of resources and advisors are available to assist your organization in developing a plan tailored to your organization’s specific needs. Investing time and effort in comprehensive succession planning not only minimizes disruptions but also positions your organization for smooth transitions and continued success. A proactive and exhaustive succession plan can help your nonprofit can safeguard its missions and build a solid foundation for future achievements.

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