Hinton Connects

Your non-profit resource team

For more information visit our webpage at

View All Posts

Nov 27

Prepare the Way for the Next Leader

Posted on November 27, 2017 at 3:00 PM by Josh Yaworski

timer ticking with the words time to plan written in the centre

Prepare the Way for the Next Leader

The term “succession plan” doesn’t really resonate with most people. Many people find these words to be uncomfortable. Talking about change tends to make people feel nervous. Yet, preparing for a leadership transition is smart management. As the idiom goes, “get your ducks in a row”.

A succession plan is a document stating the actionable steps the board will take in the quest to fill a vacant leadership position. This plan should be completed and adopted before any departures even emerge. Ultimately, it is a “to-do” list with timelines to ensure that momentum is not lost during the transition between the current leader and the successor.

There are three typical scenarios that instigate a succession plan: an emergency situation, an intent to leave a position, or simply growing talent within the organization.

Regrettably, there are emergency situations when an Executive Director suddenly departs. Gone. They might quit, be terminated, become injured, or sadly expire from this world. Without a succession plan, a lot of institutional memory and knowledge would be lost! If the organization is not prepared there could be a major disruption in service.

There are other reasons for leadership vacancies. A leader might exit because they found a different job, are moving away, or are ready for retirement. If they give reasonable notice of their intent to leave, then this is referred to as “defined departure”.

Thirdly, a non-profit can be proactive and identify future leadership gaps. Internally, is there a promising leader who can be nurtured? The strategy of identifying a person naturally suited to serve as the next Executive Director is low hanging fruit. Remember, there is no guarantee that this person will be there when the time comes to take over. Life’s like that.

Often, succession planning is something board members mean to do, but don’t get around to it. Yet, a forced or panic decision can put the non-profit into incapable or inexperienced hands. This could create organizational jeopardy.

If the work is done on the front end – before the leadership gap even happens, then some anxiety can be reduced. Most mistakes can be averted. A lot of frustration and chaos can be controlled. Service levels can be maintained.

Start by creating a succession plan policy. This will prompt the board to attend to it in a timely manner. An online search will reveal succession plan templates and other resources. Always customize templates to organizational needs.

The entire process might uncover gaps that were unknown or forgotten about. Everything can be dealt with and the organization becomes better prepared for the next leader. As the idiom goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.