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Mission Matters Insights

Succession Planning in Your Nonprofit...How to Get Started

April 07, 2017

In the event of a retirement, or sudden loss of a key leader in your nonprofit, achieving your mission could be hindered—for this reason, you must have a detailed succession plan in place.

Does your nonprofit organization have a well-documented succession plan in place? Don’t make the mistake of putting it off as a “project for a rainy day”—creating a future plan for your company is a necessity, and will help your organization run smoothly in the event of a retirement or loss of a key leader.

Three approaches to succession planning

  1. Strategic leader development- Before the top executive or other key person has left, identify talented individuals who have or can develop the ability to carry on your NFP’s goals. The executive director should begin delegating some leadership duties once you choose this successor. That way the current executive director gets time to train and assist the incoming leader until he or she can competently handle the new duties.
  2. Emergency- Sometimes, you need an emergency succession in the event of a sudden death or disability. Current leaders need to prepare a list of their duties and step-by-step instructions on fulfilling them to avoid any chaos in the unfortunate event of an emergency succession. EVERY organization needs an emergency succession plan—unforeseen deaths and disabilities do happen.
  3. Defined departure- Sometimes a key person will announce his/her retirement one or two years in advance. This allows the successor to acquire leadership strength sooner rather than later. The key person wants to ensure the organization can function well after his or her retirement, so gradual training will not only help the successor but also the exiting leader, too.

The Question Every Organization Should Ask....

Without our CEO, CFO, executive director and other key individuals, could we continue to achieve our mission?

An organization can protect itself in the event of a sudden death or disability with something called “key person insurance” which is essentially a life insurance on the key person in the organization. This helps ensure that the loss of a key employee will not hinder the nonprofit’s operations nor disrupt the organization’s mission.

Transition training

It is always helpful for another individual to work at the same time as a key person who knows he/she is leaving soon. Gradually shifting more work from a leader to his/her successor is extremely beneficial to both individuals, and hands-on training from the person who has held the position will make the successor’s transition that much easier.

If the successor is an outside-hire, hiring the individual a few months before the targeted date will allow him/her to get some time with the exiting leader.

Forming a succession planning committee can help.

Succession planning toolkits

There are a number of free or low-cost succession planning toolkits online if you find the process too time-consuming or overwhelming for your organization at the current time. You can access step-by-step instructions in these kits, as well as templates and worksheets to help you keep a record of timelines, tasks etc.

Need help getting started? Contact any member of our Not-for-Profit Services Team.

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