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Guest Post: Why Succession Planning Matters


By: Brian Broadbent

Lately Northeast Ohio has celebrated a number of nonprofit executive retirements.  However, many nonprofit boards ignore planning for executive transitions until absolutely necessary.  Why is it overlooked?  Nonprofit boards don’t want to consider losing their outstanding chief executive. There can be reluctance on the part of the chief executive to think about transitioning out.  However, in the end, the chief executive will retire or resign and the scramble will be on to fill the void.

A study by the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation found that 66% of chief executives are leaving their jobs within 5 years.  Only 17% reported that their organization has a written succession plan.  I recently spoke with a chief executive who said he will not prepare a succession plan because he is fearful that addressing his succession might hasten his departure.  Bad answer!

Why succession is needed:

1. The mission of the organization is in jeopardy without thoughtful leadership transitions. Strong leadership is vital to an organization’s success. The board must prepare for the inevitable.

2. Boards need time to choose a successor with good leadership capabilities and culture fit. A broad list of candidates should be considered. Boards have a responsibility to find the best candidate and conduct a thoughtful ‘non-urgent’ review with internal and external candidates.

3. Internal candidates need time to develop. Statistics show that nonprofits chose an internal candidate only 40% of the time because boards fear they don’t have the fundraising or financial review expertise. Nonprofits that commit to succession planning give their current staff opportunities for advancement.

4. Thoughtful community connections need to be developed with staff beyond the CEO/ED.  I have seen organizations where all of the key donor and foundation relationships reside solely with the chief executive. If the chief executive leaves, the organization may suffer a reduction in funding until the next chief executive builds donor and funder confidence.

We recommend succession plans that addresses all key leadership positions with short-term and long-term succession. Sorting this out early prepares your staff and board for orderly transitions. Don’t put off addressing this critical process.  It is vital to your organization and helpful for funders, staff and board to know that you are prepared. Importantly, consider the consequences of not putting your organization in the best possible position to serve those that depend on you.

To learn more about BVU:CNE’s services for nonprofits, visit their website.

Brian Broadbent is the president and CEO of BVU: The Center for Nonprofit Excellence. Click here to learn more about Brian. 

Header Image: Bethany Legg | Unsplash