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Succession planning
9/16/2016 12:00 AM

This B&A feature provides actionable steps to internally develop a successor to the executive director.

When the board and executive director agree their nonprofit has an excellent potential successor to the administrator in house, the organization is on good ground.

If this is the case at your nonprofit, work together to develop a plan so that when the time comes, there is no doubt as to whom the board wants as your successor. Consider some of these strategies.

  • Provide growth opportunities. Offer your successor feedback on her efforts. Update the board on these growth opportunities and results.
  • Coach the potential successor. Coaching after board meetings, providing difficult assignments followed by feedback and other leadership opportunities are beneficial.
  • Provide her with high-stakes assignments. These could include an effort to find funding for the organization, and opportunities to report to the board and the organization’s funders. Offer your guidance when asked.
  • Create a tailored development plan for the planned successor. This plan can include action items and responsibilities such as:
    1. Identifying developmental priorities.
    2. Seeking advice from others.
    3. Creating and following a plan.
  • Require attendance and participation at each board meeting and pertinent committee meetings. Attendance will allow the board the opportunity to become comfortable with her.
  • Schedule frequent check-ins with the executive.
  • Provide regular assessment of progress.
Succession planning
9/9/2016 12:00 AM

Executive Director Rod Braun (Pella, Iowa) said the CEO must think strategically about three issues as he plans his exit from the nonprofit.

Succession planning deserves your time and effort, because when you depart, you want a smooth transition to the new CEO to ensure the organization keeps humming along.

Executive Director Rod Braun (Pella, Iowa; has important points to make about succession planning, starting with the myth some boards employ to avoid it.

  1. Don’t buy the board’s “this is too expensive” argument. “Some boards argue they can’t afford succession planning,” Braun said. They wait until the retiring CEO is a few months from leaving and then have a very brief mentoring period, he said.
  2. “I don’t consider that succession planning,” Braun said. “By design, our succession planning makes the current associate director the CEO when I retire. If he stays until I retire, he will have 14 years of service—and will have immediate credibility and trust.”

    If the board waits until the last minute, there is no way the new person can have the gravitas he or she needs, Braun said. “In my opinion, they are almost being set up to fail,” he said. “The argument heard in our field for not having an associate director position is that the organization simply can’t afford it.”

    Braun said his organization could not afford such a staff position until annual revenues approached $6 million.

  3. Tackle the tough issues before you leave. “If a tough call needs to be made, I would suggest making it at least three to six months before departing so that the CEO who is leaving can manage any fallout, not the new person,” Braun said.
  4. In a similar vein, Braun has quarterly discussions with his successor about issues he can tackle in the next four years rather than leaving them to him. “I want to do everything I can to make my successor successful,” he said.

  5. Don’t “consult” with the board once you have retired. If the board wants to hire you as a consultant as your successor gets up to speed, pass on the offer, Braun said. “Seldom have I seen such an arrangement turn out well,” he said. “In fact, as an incoming CEO, I would probably decline the job offer if such an arrangement was in place.”
  6. The board should only supervise the incoming CEO and if the CEO wants to pay an hourly fee for consulting services with the former CEO, that should be his call and not the board’s, Braun said.

    “I have seen way too many train wrecks when former CEOs are kept on the payroll,” Braun said. The reason a board will keep a former CEO around is often due to contacts and relationships with key donors, he said.

    “I am sure some board members here will want to keep me on to manage some of those key donors when I retire, but I encourage donor loyalty to the mission of the organization, not the CEO,” Braun said. “I have taken the time to have the associate director, my successor, get to know key donors.”

Chain of Command
8/12/2016 12:00 AM

Board & Administrator Editor Jeff Stratton said a visual representation can teach board and staff members the proper relationship between the two.

A Minnesota executive director is frustrated because she is having little luck trying to get her board to understand that staff communication should be funneled through the executive director.

In this case, a teaching tool might help board and staff better understand the connection between the two parties.

Think of the relationship as an hourglass: The board occupies the top end of the hourglass and the staff occupies the bottom end of the hourglass, while the executive director occupies the thin part of the hourglass in the center. Teach your board and staff that image to get them to respect the organization’s chain of command and direct all communication through the executive director.

8/19/2016 12:00 AM

Use this board member job description from B&A to teach the board its role and prevent problems.

Board Recruiting
8/5/2016 12:00 AM

Use this Board Composition Survey from Board & Administrator Editor Jeff Stratton to ensure the board’s makeup is well-rounded and diverse.

6/17/2016 12:00 AM

These Board & Administrator guidelines clarify board responsibilities and duties for advisory committees to prevent role misunderstandings.

Advisory committee members, as well as board members, need help in understanding the purpose of an advisory committee. Use the following guidelines to clarify the purpose of your advisory committees.

Board committees: The board shall approve all matters pertaining to the business and policies of the organization. The board may appoint standing committees; however, no individual member or group composed of less than the full membership of the board shall exercise the powers of the full board.

Temporary ad hoc and/or advisory committees: With the approval and direction of the board, the chair of the board may appoint ad hoc and/or advisory committees to assist the board.

The following guidelines shall apply to all temporary ad hoc or advisory committees:

Committees shall be appointed for a specific and well-defined purpose. Their authority shall be limited to the task assigned to them by the board.

All committees shall be fact-finding or advisory in nature and possess no executive powers. Committees and committee members shall have no power to make monetary or other decisions for the board.

The board will provide such committees with a meeting place. The executive director shall provide these committees with an administrative presence. The administrator or his/her designee shall be a member of all committees.

All reports of any temporary committee shall be made to the board and executive director.

Ad hoc or advisory committees shall be dissolved upon completion of their assigned tasks.

Final authority in the decision-making process will reside with the board.

Standing rules:

The purpose of any advisory committee shall be to: (1) advise and comment to the board concerning the conduct of the organization’s services, structure and policy; (2) inform the community of services offered by the organization; (3) assist a specified office or program with community relations, marketing and fundraising, and provide other support as appropriate; and (4) provide consultation and direction on the development of resources.


The chairperson shall preside at all meetings of the advisory committee and shall be responsible for informing the advisory committee of projects and programs established by the board.


Upon recommendation of the advisory committee, a member of the advisory committee shall be appointed by the chairperson of the board to serve as liaison with the board. Where applicable, an advisory committee member who is also a member of the board will serve as the liaison. The liaison shall be responsible for the flow of information between the two bodies. The liaison will provide a written report of the advisory committee’s activity to the board as needed.


The advisory committee will meet only as needed to study assigned issues. The time, date and place of the meetings will be determined by the advisory committee.


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  • Meet the Editor

    Jeff Stratton

    Jeff Stratton has edited Board & Administrator since 1992. As the Board Doctor, he has advised thousands of executive directors and board members on issues like prevention of
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