Executive Transition

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.

Unfortunately, according to Leading with Intent, only 34 percent of all organizations have a written executive succession plan. Given that 50 percent of nonprofit boards will be confronted with replacing a chief executive within the next five years, they are putting their organizations at risk.

All nonprofits should have a succession plan in place so that they are prepared for a chief executive transition. Hiring the chief executive may be the most crucial responsibility of a nonprofit board, and BoardSource wants to see you carry it out with confidence and great success.

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.

 

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Community and Member Resources

All 101-level community resources listed below are available publicly. BoardSource members have access to 101-, 201-, and 301-level resources. Don’t forget to visit the BoardSource store for more resources on this topic!

Board Member as Interim Chief Executive

201| Members only resource. The timing for the changing of the guards is dependent on how suddenly the position is vacated, how comprehensive and time-consuming the search ends up being, and how quickly a new leader can accept the appointment. Often an interim management solution is necessary to ensure continuity and to avoid a loss of momentum.

Chief Executive Recruitment: Finding the Right Candidate

201| Members only resource. It sounds straightforward, yet as everyone knows, the work of a search committee tasked with finding a new chief executive can be fraught. Identifying which applicant will best match the chief executive position description turns out to be only part of the job. Figuring out, collaboratively and collectively, who is the right leader for the organization is the ultimate goal, and it can be as difficult as it is crucial.

Chief Executive Succession Planning

201| Members only resource. The board is responsible for finding and keeping the person most suitable to manage the organization. This task is not an isolated task. It is an essential part of succession planning — a proactive process to keep the management constantly aligned with the strategic framework of the organization.

Co-Chief Executives

201| Members only resource. Some organizations traditionally divide the executive leadership duties among two or more individuals. Others choose this option as an innovative way to structure management or to get through a strenuous period before the right person is found to manage the operations. Co-executive leadership­, however, does not come without challenges. Duties and relationships need special attention. Both chief executives and the board must feel comfortable about the arrangement.

Founder’s Syndrome

101| Community resource. “Founderitis” and “founder’s syndrome” are terms often used to describe a founder’s resistance to change. When founderitis surfaces, the source of the dilemma often is a founder’s misunderstanding of his or her role in an evolving organization.

Interim Chief Executive

201| Members only resource. Whether a chief executive leaves suddenly or after a previously specified time period, the board has a major job in finding the next leader of the organization.

Nonprofit Board Members Applying for Staff Positions

201| Members only resource. It is not unusual for a board member to be interested in a staff opening in an organization. The board member may feel that she has the necessary skills and previous experience with this nonprofit. However, when a board member wants to move from governance to management or administration, it is important to follow fair hiring procedures and avoid any preferential treatment.

Nonprofit Chief Executive Job Description

201| Members only resource. The chief executive is responsible for the overall administration and management of XYZ, including service programs, fundraising, and business operations. The job description outlines the areas of responsibility include planning and evaluation, policy development and administration, personnel and fiscal management, and public relations.

The Role of the Former Chief Executive

201| Members only resource. There are many ways to keep former board members involved in a nonprofit. It is more difficult to define the role of a departing chief executive. Is it appropriate to invite him or her to stay in close contact? Should a former chief executive join the board? Before answering these questions, it is wise to clarify the relationship between the former chief executive, the new chief executive, and the board.

Transitions to New Leadership: The First 1000 Days

301| Members only resource. Nonprofit leadership transitions can be risky. Organizations seeking new leadership have, essentially, three choices: grooming an inside candidate, which is fairly uncommon; or seeking an outside candidate either from within or outside the nonprofit sector. This paper will focus on outside-candidate transitions.