Succession planning brings to mind a leadership transition. Yes, it is true that people leave organizations (and more than two-thirds are predicted to do so with the upcoming baby boomer departures), but succession planning is not solely about leadership transitions; nor should it be viewed as a technical fix or a transactional exercise. Succession planning at its core is about ensuring organizational sustainability by identifying and addressing key vulnerabilities so that the organization is not dependent on any one leader, funder, strategy or way of thinking. It touches on everything from framing choices for the future (including asking whether the organization should exist in its current form), developing sustainable business models, to strengthening staff and board leadership – in essence, all the core activities needed to support the success of the organization’s mission and its leaders over time.
Don’t Wait for an Emergency or a Departure to Start Sustainability Planning at Your Nonprofit.
“Succession Readiness” Checklist
Here are some of the key components of organizational sustainability. And, if the organization is strong in these areas, it is much more ready for a leadership transition. We like this (abridged) list compiled by our friends at CompassPoint:
- A strategic plan is always in place, including objectives for leadership talent development.
- The board evaluates the executive director annually.
- The board, based on an annual self-evaluation, is satisfactorily performing its major governance jobs: financial oversight, executive support and oversight, policy development and strategic planning.
- Top management is a high-performing team.
- Another staff person or board member shares important external relationships (major donors, funders, community leaders) maintained by the executive.
- A financial reserve is in place with a minimum of 3 months’ operating capital.
- Financial systems are strong.
- Key staff have documented their key activities in writing and another staff person can conduct their duties in an emergency.
- Emergency succession plan is in place.