A wide range of terms are used in succession planning and the type of plan you create varies depending on your current stage in the process. I covered the basic types of planning necessary for all organizations in my article on succession planning. In this article, I will provide an overview for those organizations that have a long-time executive director who is planning far in advance for a transition.
It’s easy to get to the end of a year on your nonprofit board and realize that you haven’t taken care of essential tasks for your organization. An easy way to keep tabs on all of the tasks of a board of directors is to create a board calendar that you refer to as you develop each board meeting agenda. This will systematize your work and make it much simpler to check off the tasks.
Here is a starting list for your board calendar of tasks and events to include. The document itself should be reviewed and updated annually.
As organizations begin to plan for succession for the executive director and other key staff, they often realize that the board needs a succession plan as well.
I remember all too well the board meeting when our chair breezed late and announced this was her last board meeting. She’d changed positions at her company and could no longer serve. None of us expected this news. She’d been a fantastic board chair for the past couple of years. She was involved, brought great ideas, and cared about the mission. Everyone else looked around at each other, with no one willing to step up. Our vice-chair had stated from the beginning that he was unable to put in the time to be the chair. We had no one ready to step up.
What Interim Executive Directors Do – recorded August 12, 2020
Interim executive directors play an important role in a nonprofit leadership transition. But what do they actually do? Why are they valuable? How can you become one?
Board Recruitment Webinar – recorded May 20, 2020
In this video, I cover many ways you can recruit and retain great board members. There’s a ton of ideas on where to look for members that you might not have considered, but it is just important to make sure your recruits have a great experience. We talk about nominations, interviews, onboarding, and more.
Joining a nonprofit board is often represented as the ultimate way to serve an organization, but it isn’t always the best option for everyone. Here are some considerations:
Do you prefer working in teams or alone?
All good boards function as strong teams of people who get things done together. This involves plenty of meetings and robust discussion. Do you enjoy meetings or are you sick and tired of them? I have a friend who has no interest in going to any more meetings in his life. He just wants to get work done. He is a fantastic volunteer on work days at a nonprofit with me, and always willing to share insightful comments while we work. Everyone benefits in this situation.
Is your skill set something that lends itself to working alone?
Would you prefer to help organizations out by focusing on upgrading their technology, for example? You might want to volunteer to work with staff in that specific area, not by attending meetings to discuss the strategic direction of the organization.
The chair of a nonprofit board has significant power to shape the organization, but all too often, that chair is not prepared to lead. More often than we’d like to admit, the previous board chair needed to step down unexpectedly and someone without training reluctantly takes the position. In a recent study, over half the respondents reported they did nothing to prepare for their role as a board chair. The new board chair is frustrated, because they aren’t sure what to do. The executive director is frustrated, because they have an ineffective board chair. The rest of the board members start pulling back and don’t want to attend meetings. None of this helps the organization grow.
It’s unfortunate, since a great board chair has a real opportunity to make a positive difference for the organization. They can inspire their fellow board members to do their best and support the executive director tremendously. Board chairs need to have a wide range of skills, especially in working with others. They also need to have the time to focus on the board and the organization. The process to choose the next board chair should be deliberate, but it is too often made in a time of panic as the previous chair leaves.
The possibility of a long-term trusted and high performing executive director leaving their position is a scary prospect for most boards. It can be made more manageable by intentional planning and open discussions. In addition, taking the time to explore succession planning and leadership development now will benefit the organization immediately through reduced workloads, better-trained staff, and the opportunity for future growth.
Through a new program called Successful Transitions, Lincoln organizations developed their plans and prepared for the future. The first Successful Transitions cohort consisted of six nonprofit organizations. One has an executive director who had a firm retirement date less than a year away. Two others have founding executive directors considering retirement someday in the future, but knew they needed to put plans in place for a smooth transition. The other three have no departure plans but understood that succession planning would benefit the entire organization now and in the future. There was also a wide range of organization size (staff sizes between 1 and 75) and executive director tenure (2 to 40+ years).
In this video, I cover all of the basics of succession planning. It’s an important tool for long term sustainability for nonprofit organizations. Contact me and I’ll be happy to help you develop your own organization’s succession plan.
Change is Hard! How to Make It Easier for Everyone
We all deal with changes in different ways. What significantly affects one person is no big deal to another. The same event has various impacts on different people. For example, someone leaving a job will be thrilled at the new opportunities coming, while a co-worker is devastated to lose a fantastic colleague. At an organization with a new executive director starting, one of her program managers could be excited at the chance to work with someone new, while another manager is afraid of someone coming in and demanding to run programs in a new way.
Change is especially evident when an executive director leaves their position. This transition will affect everyone’s work load and level of comfort, but often people expect that a change is affecting others the same way as it does them. I often see this when a board has known about an upcoming departure for a month or longer, and staff don’t. When the staff are told, board members expect them to be ready to move on to the next step right away, forgetting that they also needed time to process this change.