Watch out for that bus! Succession Planning for your Nonprofit

Since I started working in the nonprofit sector, the number of people killed by buses decreased by 90% (my stat).  I don’t know anyone who has been hit by a bus in the recent past, and most of my clients don’t use public transportation, anyway.

On a serious note, since entering the scene in 1990, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the phrase, “ what are we going to do if you get hit by a bus!” said to an Executive Director during a professional board retreat. This Chicken Little mentality does little to actually remedy the problem. The sky is not falling, buses are not aiming for the best and brightest among us, but nonprofits do need to wake up to the problem at hand.

The thing that hits us is life, not buses. People move on from jobs, move on from boards, or are not the right fit.The productive way to address this issue is having a good succession plan in place at all levels of your organization, from board to senior management to staff. What you need to be prepared for is making your organization one that people want to join and stay.

Currently, only 34% of organizations have a written succession plan in place, according to a 2014 Boardsource report. That number is troubling, since 50% of boards will have to replace their retiring CEOs within the upcoming five years.

Putting good people in the right roles and knowing that change is natural ensures an organization is prepared for whatever may lie ahead. New staff may take different approaches to leadership, may have different opinions and ideas, and may not follow the status quo, but that is a good thing- there are many ways to make an organization sustainable, and being open to change and innovation is one of the most important.

Here’s the 411 on Succession Planning

What is it?

Succession planning is a good way to ensure you have people, processes or a combination of both in place in case someone valuable leaves your organization. For more about different types of succession planning including Emergency, Departure-Defined, and Strategic Leader Development, check out the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Succession-Planning Toolkit.

Why do it?

Succession planning assures that your organization is sustainable.  

How do I do it?

Hire good people you can put your faith in, and then trust and empower them.  Care about your employees, listen to their concerns, and make your organization one people want to work for not one that is constantly turning over staff.

Recruit good board members and hold them accountable.  Make sure the board understands the most important job they have as a board member is to replace themselves with a better board when they leave. Boardsource states that board members should be the ones to “identify and nurture promising leaders,” as a part of their succession plan.

It is no coincidence that success is a major part of succession.

2 thoughts on “Watch out for that bus! Succession Planning for your Nonprofit”

  1. I was hit by a bus in my teen years. Spent a week in hospital recovering from concussion and broken bones. So it can and does happen.

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