Sustainability and Succession Planning

Successful leaders anticipate change. But when it comes to the most foreseeable changes, like an executive departure, few nonprofits report having a plan in place.

The lack of organizations with a succession plan or an emergency succession plan combined with the large percentage of nonprofit leaders reporting frail, operationally and financially challenged organizations suggests not only that they are unprepared for transitions, but that it is time to shift our focus to a more holistic planning framework focused on sustainability.

A key challenge of succession planning is that it often leads organizations to focus solely on the executive director role and “who” is next rather than the sustainability and impact of the organization. The topic of succession is often taboo because talking about a leader’s departure is not easy, and usually avoided—but at a high cost. Shifting the framework to organizational sustainability supports boards, leaders and staff at all levels to engage in strengthening the organization and its impact.

Our consultants work with your orSustainability planning includes succession planning, but it is focused on more broadly identifying and addressing key vulnerabilities so that the organization is not dependent on any one leader, funder, strategy or way of thinking in order to survive and grow. Organizational sustainability planning touches on everything from framing choices for the future (including asking whether the organization should exist or what different structure it should take) to building a more diverse staff and board leadership. In essence, it’s about all the core activities needed to support the success of the organization’s mission and its leaders over time.

TSNE guides your organization through the essential phases of sustainability and succession planning including: 

  • Strategic leadership development. Identifies opportunities for shared leadership among staff, develops plans for professional development and cross-training. 
  • Advancing sustainability. The structure of the organization should be reviewed and strengthened, from identifying and addressing operational weaknesses to preparing systems for the handoff. 
  • Preparing the stakeholders. More people are anxious than you think: board members and staff at every level want to know, “What’s going to change for me?” 
  • Identifying future leadership needs.  Transitions are also the best opportunity to ensure alignment about where the organization is going, what type of skills are needed for an executive to succeed and what type of person will best lead it.
  • Ensuring the appropriate departure of the current executive director. From legacy planning and unfinished business, to setting a date and having a party.
  • Recruiting, hiring and successfully orienting the new executive director. Yes, there are some nitty-gritty rules and best practices for choosing the best leadership and making sure they are assisted in adjusting into the new environment well.  Our nonprofit professionals can get your organization ready.

Sustainability and succession planning helps you understand your key vulnerabilities and strengths, build leadership capacity of staff, align staff development with strategic vision, strengthen board leadership and become “transition ready.” Download the fact sheet on succession planning in English or en Español.