Leslie Bonner of Bonner Consulting defines succession planning as a leadership development strategy for finding someone to step into the administrator’s role when the current executive director steps down.
If done properly, succession planning “frees up the CEO to face other challenges at the organization,” Bonner said.
Succession planning is also a best practice for organizational sustainability, Bonner said. It’s necessary, because the organization’s “human talent” must grow as the nonprofit’s mission and programs grow, she said.
It’s sound risk management, too, Bonner said. “The organization that has all knowledge invested in one person is not in a good place,” she said. Succession planning is crucial for knowledge transfer at an organization, and some funders may not support your organization if knowledge is held by only one leader at your organization, Bonner said, because it’s too risky.
Bonner said it’s crucial to get board input and approval for your succession planning strategy.
“It’s important to have this conversation with your board,” she said. “Ultimately, the decision about who replaces the executive director is the board’s whether you look internally or externally for the next leader.”
The board’s role in the succession planning process covers these areas, Bonner said:
- The board owns the executive director succession plan.
- The board considers making succession planning a strategic goal for the organization.
- The board budgets for succession planning.
- The board conducts the search for a new executive director.
One way to get board input into the process, Bonner said, is to enlist the board’s help in writing a job description for the CEO’s position. That will become the basis for what the board is looking for if the organization has a vacancy at the top, she said.
When succession planning, concentrate your efforts on the skill of managing board relationships, Bonner said. Recruiting board members, developing them and understanding what is good governance are challenges the next leader of the organization will face.
“This is one of the areas where there is a big difference between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors,” Bonner said. “It’s unique to the nonprofit sector.”
An effective nonprofit leader must have had a variety of work experiences, so consider that in your succession planning efforts, Bonner said. She cited the following as valuable experiences:
- fundraising and revenue generation;
- board recruitment, managing board relationships and engaging board members;
- programmatic experience;
- visibility and experience in the community and nonprofit sector;
- broad management experience; and
- leading organizational change.
For more information, go to www.bonner-consulting.com.