Sustainability IS your Succession Plan

In Succession by Shelli Bischoff

“78% of (nonprofit) leaders intend to leave their job by 2020.”

Opportunity in Change: Preparing Boston for Leader Transitions and New Models of Nonprofit Leadership

This statistic comes from a study Third Sector New England prepared for the Boston Foundation. It mirrors national trends and data regarding the fast-approaching leadership crunch facing mission-driven organizations and agencies.

No wonder so many nonprofits are talking about succession planning!

In addition, many boards are concerned with replacing executive directors and recruiting the next generation of board members. Those running public agencies are often equally concerned about retaining experienced leadership.

Succession? Sustainability.

As I read the study, one section really resonated with me (emphasis added):

“A key challenge of the succession planning framework is that it often leads organizations to focus solely on the executive director role and who is the next, rather than the sustainability and impact of the organization…. Shifting the framework to organizational sustainability supports boards, leaders and staff at all levels to engage in strengthening the organization and its impact.”

I find this to be the case in my work with clients. Worried about succession? The best thing you can do is broaden your focus beyond one position and consider the long-term strength and sustainability of the organization.

It makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? After all, the organization that’s going to attract the best executive talent is the one with highly skilled staff, an involved board, and a large diverse constituency. Not the one with the most detailed succession plan.

The Smart Approach to Succession

As we’ve discussed before, an organizational analysis (or what the Land Trust Alliance calls a needs assessment) is the best starting point for an organization planning for succession.

We’ve used this kind of analysis countless times to help clients develop their organization to successfully navigate leadership successions. You can read more about that approach here:

Getting Started

Preparing for a transition in leadership can be overwhelming. Starting off with the right questions will help you stay focused:

  • Where are we and where are we going?
  • What are our key assets and what issues or weaknesses need attention?
  • What kind of leadership will we need – at all levels – to succeed and make an impact?

And you can always give us a call if you need advice or assistance. Good luck!