Nonprofits that are serious about their own sustainability will also be serious about planning for smooth and thoughtful leadership transitions. Planning for leadership transition should take into consideration not only planned transitions but also unplanned ones -- whether for staff or board leaders -- and sustainability also means cross-training staff so that important day-to-day functions will continue uninterrupted. Who is responsible for all this planning? The board development committee or "board governance" committee will generally focus on leadership succession at the board level, while staff is most often charged with identifying transition plans for staff leadership succession, whether planned or unexpected. However, because the board is ultimately responsible for oversight of the executive director, typically it is the board's role to initiate succession planning for the executive director.
Every nonprofit needs a plan to deal with an unexpected event, such as the unexpected departure of key leaders. Self-help guidance for emergency succession planning is available in this resource on succession planning. (Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City)
Grantmakers can play a critical role in helping nonprofits during a transition of leadership. This article, Philanthropy’s Role in Succession Planning: How Funders Can Assist Grantee Organizations in Preparing for Leadership Change reports, using several case studies, how funders have assisted nonprofits with capacity building to prepare them for leadership succession and transition.
For more background on leadership development in the nonprofit sector, visit the Leadership section of the Council of Nonprofits' website
"The domain of leaders is the future. The leader's unique legacy is the creation of valued institutions that survive over time. The most significant contribution leaders make is not simply to today's bottom line; it is to the long-term development of people and institutions so they can adapt, change, prosper, and grow."
Source: The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes & Posner (2007)
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