Crafting a Succession Plan Starts with These 3 Steps

By Jonathan Howard

One of the challenges we see nonprofits face, year after year, comes from a lack of planning. Thinking about your next leader when you’re working with your organization’s best Executive Director in recent history, might feel, understandably, like a challenge for tomorrow, especially in the face of programmatic, fundraising, and other operations challenges. You might be thinking, well, they’re nowhere near retirement age, right? They’re committed to the mission and don’t have any plans to leave… right? 

If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that things change. That leader who has been steadfast might experience a huge life change that requires that they step down. Maybe they realized they’re ready for something new, or perhaps it’s time to retire. Either way, you will have huge shoes to fill. Who is going to step up in the meantime? Who will make sure that programs continue to deliver, who will be the face of your next fundraising event? With a succession plan in place, you’ll be prepared for the uncertainty that any leadership change will bring, but without a plan: Yikes! Let’s not think about that. Instead, we’re going to make sure you and your staff are ready for changes, planned or not. 

Edgility Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Allison Wyatt and Edgility Associate Partner, Jonathan Howard recently hosted a webinar about succession planning for nonprofits. You can watch that webinar here, but first, check out our pointers for creating your plan.

Doing the groundwork

Assess and Prepare Internal Talent

A good leader should always support their employee’s professional development. When you take the time to create and maintain a talent system that supports employee growth, you’ll find that over time, you’ve built a strong leadership pipeline.

Identify Talent Gaps in Your Organization

When a leadership change happens, organizations often lack the depth required for a staff member to step into a senior leadership role. To prepare for a succession plan, senior leaders should identify gaps in the organization by performing a gap analysis. A gap analysis will help leaders identify where the organization currently stands, set goals for where the organization is heading, and establish if your current staff will help you get there. If you don’t currently have strong options for new leaders, be prepared to look outside of your organization. 

Make Your Board Attractive to Prospective Talent

A good Board of Directors supports organizational leaders and ensures an organization has everything it needs to live out its mission. Ultimately, your board must be prepared to fulfill the following goals:

  1. Hire, support, and evaluate the CEO/ED
  2. Ongoing fiscal stewardship
  3. Ensure strategic sustainability & impact
  4. Fill gaps in expertise
  5. Support networking & fundraising

To do these things well, the Board needs to be a governing body that welcomes many different perspectives and life experiences. Part of succession planning is ensuring that your board is healthy, diverse, and accessible. You need just as many corporate CEOs as you do program alumni, community members, and young people. In recent years, more organizations are supporting youth involvement by opening spots on their board to young people. If this is something your organization is interested in, you can support the involvement of younger generations by creating a Youth Advisory Council. The important thing is to curate a board that will foster the best outcomes for your organization.

Final Thoughts

While these three steps are just the beginning, they lay a crucial foundation to prepare your organization for a change in leadership and will help determine where you need to start to create a succession plan. Edgility is here to support you before, during, and after leadership transitions. Reach out today if you’d like to learn how we can support your organization with talent management, compensation design, or leading the search for your next Executive Director, Chief Operations Officer, or other leadership staff.

Meet the expert:

Jonathan Howard

Associate Partner

“I love that the people and orgs I work with aren’t happy with marginal improvements – they are working toward ambitious outcomes that will have significant, even life-changing impact for and with the communities they serve.”

Jonathan can support your organization with:
  • Executive Search
  • Recruitment Campaigns
  • Hiring Process Design & Implementation Support

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We believe equity isn’t a box to check. It’s a daily action. Someone’s unique identity isn’t something to overcome–when paired with the right opportunity, it becomes one of their greatest professional assets. We exist to empower social impact organizations to recognize and overcome unconscious bias, racism and sexism so they can build a workforce that reflects and strengthens the communities they serve.