- Succession Planning. The name certainly doesn't conjure up images of a fun project. Nonetheless, most nonprofits do not have a plan to get them through a period where they lose their primary leader, the Executive Director. Failure to plan for the absence and replacement of an Executive Director can throw an agency into turmoil that will shake the very foundation of the organization.
Executive Directors impact a wide variety of elements in a nonprofit organization from day-to-day operations to major funding streams. In addition to the fundraising problems that may occur with the departure of an Executive Director, there may be equally large problems with the execution of contracts the Executive Director was written into. Many contracts contain an expectation that the Executive Director fulfills an operative or supervisory role and failure to do so may jeopardize the entire contract. There are some key questions a nonprofit board should consider when contemplating a succession plan:
Is the Board of Directors able to hire a new Executive Director?
Is the job of the Executive Director realistic?
Is the salary of the Executive Director sufficient to attract qualified candidates?
Can the Board cover any gaps in fundraising?
If the Executive Director were to suddenly leave, who would assume their duties?
Discussing these questions will help the Board to contemplate action prior to an Executive Director's departure. In addition to funding and operational activities, the Board should consider the media strategy it will use to explain the loss of the Director and the steps being taken to replace him or her. This will be very important in terms of maintaining confidence in the organization from both the staff and the community perspective.
While leadership change can be difficult, planning in advance for the replacement of an Executive Director can help to keep the organization running smoothly, in compliance with all contracts, attractive to funders, and able to attract qualified candidates. Truly, a little succession planning does a long way!