The Real Reason Nonprofits Need A Succession Plan (But No One Ever Talks About It)

The Real Reason Nonprofits Need A Succession Plan (But No One Ever Talks About It)

Are you an Executive Director of a nonprofit agency? Do you have a succession plan? If you’re like many you don’t. 

Why don’t more nonprofits have succession plans?

I suspect that the reason most executive directors aren’t more pro-active creating succession plans is because subconsciously that don’t want to be replaced. It’s a form of job security.

“If I don’t announce an heir apparent they’ll still need me.

After all you want to feel appreciated. You want to feel loved. You want to be respected by the core group of people who share your belief in your cause (along with their $136 average annual donation¹) for your good works.

What you are probably unaware of is you are already loved (just the way you are).

And like most, you don’t think you’re going anywhere soon. You’re too busy running day to day operations.

Turnover at the top is higher than you might think

However, the statistics tell a different story. It’s said that 3 of 4 non profit directors don’t have a succession plan in place. What are the chances your nonprofit will have a new leader to replace you 5 years from now? Do you know? Maybe 5%, 20%,, 40%? You’re getting close.

The fact is 3 out of 4 current executive directors will soon leave their jobs in the next 5 years.

Most of us join nonprofits because we believe in the mission. We support the cause.

And it’s only natural that we want organizations to succeed and prosper beyond a change at the top. Let the mission live on! So let’s just ask, if you’re one of these 75% who are going to be leaving your job in the next 5 years, why are you going to leave?

The comedian Chris Rock has got a great bit where he says:

“You know, some people say life is short and that you could get hit by a bus at any moment and that you have to live each day like it’s your last. Baloney [sic]! Life is long. You’re probably not gonna get hit by a bus. And you’re gonna have to live with the choices you make for the next fifty years.”

Let’s face it. The chances you’re going to get hit by a bus are slim to none. But you owe it to your stakeholders to get over whatever’s holding you back to create one for this simple reason:

“There’s a greater likelihood you’re going to get thrown under the bus than get hit by one.”

If you’re an executive director of a nonprofit, you have enormous responsibilities to your stakeholders, and succession planning is of vital importance. There are three basic ways to go about succession planning (going from the least attractive to the most attractive for all concerned).

1. After you’re gone.  You might need to leave unexpectedly or forever — you never know. You might get sick, die, resign, or be terminated.  This is emotionally disruptive for all the stakeholders in organization. Most likely, history will judge you harshly for being selfish and not having a plan in place.

2. When you decide to leave. With a departure date 18 or 24 months in the future, this sort of transition offers you, the Executive Director the space to negotiate your closing role with your Board. That might or might not include helping search for a successor (probably through a retained search so the organization can have assurance every possibility was looked at). Depending on your relationship with the Board, this opens the door to a new direction you might not agree with.

3. You start today – now. It’s likely that the next leader of your non-profit organization is in an office down the hall from you at this very moment. He/she may be senior manager or a new intern. This type of succession planning, building from within our own ranks, asks how – and if – the nonprofit prepares its own managers and staff members to assume leadership roles. Placing a value on leadership development provides you with the greatest likelihood to leave a legacy through the people you’ve groomed to lead in the future.

Clearly, #3 is the best choice for you and all concerned.

Your donors, employees, management team, suppliers & contractors, your beneficiaries, your family, and your community will thank you.

If you take steps now you can make sure you leave a legacy that is fondly remembered.