One of the key ways that success is measured for a nonprofit is to assess its ability to develop an effective strategic succession plan and its competency during the implementation process.

But when the Executive Director/CEO of an organization is moving on, whether by choice or at the board’s direction, the transition can create major hurdles if not handled thoughtfully and thoroughly. There should be no surprises!

Whose Problem is This?

It is the responsibility of the board of trustees to identify, recruit, hire and train the nonprofit staff, including the executive director.  In addition, it is up to the board members to lay the groundwork for a successful succession. They will be accountable for the day-to-day transition as well as for managing the overall impact of new leadership on every facet of the nonprofit.

At a recent SobelCo hosted board chair roundtable, several relevant and practical suggestions were offered that could result in a more efficient and less contentious process.

What are the Steps to a Smooth Leadership Transition?

Here are some of the “best of the best” insights:

  • Start early! Avoid being rushed through such an essential process by waiting too long. Assume this will take twice as long as you anticipate.
  • Create a realistic, accurate job description that takes into account the strengths and weaknesses of previous Executive Directors; understand why and how past leaders have succeeded and confidentially reference any performance reviews that were conducted to provide insight for the board when they are called on to assist with the search and selection. Be clear about the demands of the role as you acknowledge activities that commonly take place outside of ‘normal’ business hours, express the need to develop a presence as a community influencer, and offer insights into the culture of the organization and its board members.
  • Form a sub-committee to stay focused on the task.
  • Consider hiring a professional recruiter to help narrow the search.
  • Prepare to make the right introductions and jump start the integration process if the search attracts candidates from outside the area; Manage expectations; if the new executive director is relocating, recognize the importance of addressing the needs of his family as appropriate, including working with spouses and family members to ensure a smooth experience.
  • Hire an executive coach to help your new CEO navigate the organization and the community as quickly and effortlessly as possible.

Make Time to Do it Right

All of these suggestions represent an investment in the near term transition process as well as an investment in achieving long term goals.

If you have questions regarding a strategic succession process, please contact us at 973-994-9494.