Hiring and supporting the chief executive may be the most crucial responsibility of a nonprofit board.
Change at the executive level — whether planned or abrupt — requires the board to provide strong leadership and direction as it contemplates what the organization needs from its next leader.
Successfully managing the departure of an executive and the recruitment, hiring, and installation of a new executive is a complicated process that typically requires months of work. Boards can get ahead of the game by thinking through their desired course of action in either a planned or emergency transition — a process referred to as succession planning. The practice of succession planning —which should include ongoing updates to ensure that plans reflect the current operating environment — ensures that the executive transition isn’t unnecessarily drawn out by lack of clarity about the process and initial steps, which can have a serious negative impact on the organization. While only 27 percent of all organizations report that they have a written executive succession plan, all nonprofits should have one in place so that they are prepared in the event that the chief executive departs.
Research also tells us that the periods of executive transition can sometimes open up opportunities to think differently about organizational boundaries. A study of success factors of nonprofit mergers reveals that for 80 percent of the mergers studied, an executive director had recently left or was soon to retire in one of the pre-merger organizations. While merging organizations may not be the path for every organization facing an executive transition, our board openness survey suggests that boards may be more willing to explore this conversation than one might think.
The resources below can help your board establish a leadership succession plan, understand the phases of an executive transition, and lead the organization to its next stage of leadership.
Guides, Tools, Templates, and Infographics
The Power of Possibility campaign resource: Using the moment of an executive transition to consider a strategic partnership.
CEO Orientation Kit
Key Steps in Executive Succession Planning
Tips on How to Avoid or Transcend Founder’s Syndrome