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Eight Questions to Ask About Succession Planning for Nonprofit Organizations

If your nonprofit is serious about long-term sustainability, succession planning needs to be part of the overall plan for the organization. 

You’ve set goals, developed strategies, and trained staff to grow your presence in the community. It would be a shame to have that go to waste simply because a leader is leaving the organization. Change happens and your nonprofit should be ready.

Here are eight questions to ask about succession planning to get you started on the path to long-term success:

1. Is there a written succession plan?

BoardSource reports that only 27% of all organizations have a written executive succession plan. In the event the executive director or other another leader leave, there will be a transition time to not only figure out an interim leader but a process to identify a new one. Without a written plan, assumptions may be made that aren’t aligned with the overall vision and resources spent to start a process that should have already been happening. 

2. How can the existing leader help with the transition process?

It can take months to find the right replacement even in the best of circumstances. The current leader can provide feedback about the organization from their unique perspective, identify skills and experience for the successor, and be involved in the succession plan.

3. Is an Interim Executive Director needed until the position is filled?

Nonprofit boards face challenges and one of the biggest is when an Executive Director or Chief Executive Officer leaves. Whether it is retirement or succession, the transition is an opportunity to refocus. The role of the board should be to set a new leader up for success. For many nonprofits, it makes sense to bring in an Interim Executive Director whose role is to lead the rest of the team through transition and give the board time to find the right permanent candidate. Often Interims have high level nonprofit experience. The Rayvan Group offers Interim Executive Director Services to guide your organization through change. 

4. What is the chain of command for specific projects and tasks? 

In addition to appointing an interim director, it may be necessary to put a transition plan in place to keep the organization moving forward in spite of changes. Communicate the plan to all levels of the organization to create continuity of process and trust in the remaining leadership team.

5. Is there a written manual for processes and procedures?

The interim director and support staff may need a written manual for even the most common tasks like processing donations. If there is nothing written, it’s time to start documenting so you don’t leave the next team without guidance. Moving forward, make cross-training part of the workflow so you’re not left without the knowledge needed to continue.

6. What leadership style does the organization need for long-term sustainability?

Hint: It may be different than the style of the outgoing person. 

7. What are the lessons learned from the major fundraising events?

What worked, what didn’t, and how will future events be different? You may need someone with specific experience, especially if you’re building community relations

(PR, volunteers, donors, etc.).

8. What are future challenges?

Anticipating these needs is key to long-term sustainability. If it is fundraising, then hiring a grant writer may be a solution. If it is better organized events, then revamp the teams responsible for planning and executing. 

Succession planning for nonprofit organizations is vital to the people and communities being served. Our team is dedicated to helping nonprofit leaders grow in knowledge that they can pass to their leadership teams. 

We are currently offering Strategy Days where we focus on topics like annual planning, board training on a specific issue like fundraising, succession planning, or confronting an issue specific to your nonprofit, to develop leaders in your organization.

Contact us to learn more!


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