Executive Transitions … are Inevitable. Prepare with Reliable Resources

Every organization faces an executive transition sooner or later.

Even in emergencies, organizations that plan ahead are better prepared to serve their missions through the change.

Not long ago, Marilynn offered a program on resources to guide you through the process. We’ve updated those here.

As we welcome so many new nonprofit (and library!) directors to our agencies, and as so many boomer leaders consider retirement, let us all consider the necessary steps to a successful executive transition.


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

One note emerged from all the resources on executive transition:  prepare ahead; do not rush and have a #2 person able to step in immediately.

Below is an overview of online sources with links to numerous guidelines, tools and templates, updated with new links.

From Blue Avocado, “Succession Planning for Nonprofits of All Sizes, written in collaboration by Tim Wolfred and Jan Masaoka.

Links at the bottom of the piece send you to posts covering:

  • 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

Annie E. Casey monograph series
A 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, including:

  1. Capturing the Power of Leadership Change
  2. Interim Executive Directors
  3. Founder Transitions
  4. Up Next. Generation Change
  5. Ready to Lead? Next Generation Leaders Speak Out
  6. Next Shift. Beyond the Nonprofit Leadership Crisis
  7. Stepping Up, Staying Engaged
  8. Building Leaderful Organizations

Templates and guides by CompassPoint 

Executive Transition Initiative : Overview
Three kinds of succession planning with links to samples:

  1. Emergency: This plan ensures uninterrupted execution of essential executive duties.
  2. Strategic Leader Development: 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.

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:

1 – Poorly structured hiring process
2 – Money issues
3 – Internal board conflicts
4 – Special interest pressure
5 – Personality traps

20 Questions Organization Self-Assessment created by Patrick Ibarra, the Mejorando Group

Transition Guides
16 articles covering all aspects of executive transition.

Among these 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“.

updated 9.8.14

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