Executive Transitions…are inevitable

Every nonprofit organization is going to face this fact at some point in its existence. The amazing thing is, most organizations aren’t prepared for this inevitability.

Yet a little work now by the board of directors and the existing executive director can save the organization money, interrupted services and lost employees or patrons during the transition.

Link to May 23@4 Powerpoint Presentation, “Executive Transitions”

In the hour presentation of the May 23 @ 4 series Executive Transitions, numerous resources were shared with attendees.   Throughout the materials presented were the following recommendations:  prepare ahead; do not rush and have a #2 person able to step in immediately. An added suggestion by the author of this post is: hire passion and personality, because skills can be learned

Below is an overview of online sources with links to numerous guidelines, tools and templates. To assist your navigation of this post each new source will begin with this symbol ◊.

If you are thinking that your organization is too small, or too big to need a Succession Plan read this Blue Avocado post, Succession Planning for Nonprofits of All Sizes, written in collaboration by Tim Wolfred and Jan Masaoka. You’ll find among the additional links at the bottom of the article these particularly  important topics:

  • Six Ways to Know If It’s Time to Leave
  • Firing the Executive Director
  • When the Executive Director Leaves: The Job of the Board’s Transition Committee
  • Getting a New Executive Director Off to the Right Start

◊ Three kinds of succession planning:

  1. Emergency: a plan to address an unanticipated departure of an Executive Director, usually occurring with only a few days or weeks notice. This plan ensures uninterrupted execution of essential executive duties.
  2. Strategic Leader Development: an ongoing process that identifies the core competencies, skills and knowledge needed by your organization in the next 3-5 years; a plan to develop those competencies in existing staff or recruiting new talent.
  3. Departure-Defined: a well-planned chief executive transition. This plan ensures that the current Executive Director is personally and professional ready for the transition; provides an organizational sustainability review; ensures a board-approved succession plan crafted using best practices; provides a back-up emergency plan to cover critical risk management; clarifies the organization’s needs; re-examines the executive director’s responsibilities and considers possible reassignment or delegated tasks; provides ample time for compensation research to ensure competitiveness.

Leadership succession planning is an ongoing practice that is focused on defining an organization’s strategic vision, identifying the leadership and managerial skills necessary to carry out that vision, and recruiting, developing and retaining talented individuals who have or who can develop those skills”. Source: Executive Transition Initiative : Overview.

Other ETI resources:

Annie E. Casey monograph series

on executive transitions and executive transition management, funded in part by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund contains six volumes titled:

  1. Capturing the Power of Leadership Change
  2. Interim EDs
  3. Founder Transitions
  4. Up Next. Generation Change
  5. Staying Engaged, Stepping Up
  6. Building Leaderful Organizations

◊Transition Guides

provides 14 articles covering all aspects of executive transition, including an Emergency Succession Plan template.  Among their resources is an article by Tom Adams, Transition Success Factors.

“If you are an executive director who is planning his/her departure, we suggest reviewing the Executive Transition Overview, especially the Transition Tips for Departing Executives. We also have a piece for founders and successors.

If your are a founder, please see the Founder article in this section as well as Founder Case Studies and the Founder Transition Lessons“.

Managing Executive Transitions

is a handbook for nonprofit organizations that face or are going through an executive transition. It was developed by community leaders and staff working with the NeighborWorks® network of community-development nonprofits that were concerned about the negative effect a high turnover of executive directors was having on performance. With generous support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, project staff studied executive transitions in more than 40 nonprofits and worked intensively with 10 organizations, applying and testing the lessons learned.

The FIVE DANGER ZONES in hiring a new executive director:



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