Every Nonprofit CEO Needs an Exit Strategy

10 actions to take as you prepare to leave your role

Smart leaders – whether they’re running a business or a nonprofit – know that they’ll leave their job, even their career, at some point. They understand that every job and every career will end in a transition, eventually. It’s just a matter of when, how, and how well managed when that transition finally occurs.

When a CEO moves on – especially if they’re a founder, a long-tenured executive, or a transformational leader – their organization needs to devote time and resources to managing the transition. The longer an executive has been in place, or the more significant their impact on the organization, the harder they are to succeed and the more challenges their successor is likely to face. Regardless of the circumstances, an exit strategy can help pave the way for a smoother transition.

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The Nonprofit CEO Succession Roadmap: Your Guide for the Journey to Life’s Chapter (2019)

The Nonprofit CEO Succession Roadmap: Your Guide for the Journey to Life’s Chapter is now available on Amazon!

This is the first book ever to…

  • Look at CEO succession through the executive’s eyes.
  • Focus on flourishing in life’s next chapter – for the executive and the organization.
  • Clarify the departing executive’s role in leadership succession and define the three jobs of a leader-in-transition.
  • Help executives manage the personal and professional – and the emotional – challenges of the transition into post-career life.

It’s based on practical experience gleaned from nearly three decades of helping hundreds of nonprofit leaders prepare for and manage turnover in their chief executive position, plus a ton of fresh information based on extensive research from fields ranging from the neuroscience of change to successful aging.

For a limited time, Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read the book for free!

Click here to read more about the book.

Click here to go read it for free on Amazon!

The Six Biggest CEO Succession Mistakes

And How to Avoid Them

CEO succession — planning for and managing the change from one chief executive to the next — is one of the board’s most important responsibilities but possibly their least understood job. This isn’t surprising. Executive transitions happen infrequently, and managing them requires skills that fall far outside routine governance roles. Plus, succession projects are complicated and time-consuming. On top of that, succession planning is still a touchy topic in far too many organizations.

This article outlines some of the frequent mistakes of CEO successions, what drives those mistakes, and how good preparation helps you avoid them.


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What You’re Not Doing About Employee Retention May Be Costing You

These low-cost, no-cost strategies can boost retention in today's tight employment market

Nonprofits need to get serious about employee retention. That’s the takeaway message from an important new study by Nonprofit HR.

man walking away with briefcase

The 2019 Talent Retention Practices Survey chronicles staff retention strategies and practices in over 350 organizations from across the US (and some from Canada). Respondents were evenly distributed across the spectrum from small employers (fewer than 10 employees) to large (more than 500 employees), and across budget sizes, from less than $1 million to more than $40 million.

The report is one of the first (if not the first) to identify and quantify the challenges around employee retention in nonprofits.

What’s the problem, and why should you care?

A lot of nonprofits have an “extraction mentality” when it comes to staffing their organization.

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Developing Nonprofit Leaders

A conversation with Mary Hiland on the "Inspired Nonprofit Leadership" podcast

I’m delighted to be Mary Hiland’s guest on episode #23 of her podcast, Inspired Nonprofit Leadership.

Inspire Nonprofit Leadership Podcast episode 23

Our topic is nonprofit leadership development. Here are the points that we cover:

  • The three big myths about leadership development.
  • The 70-20-10 model of learning and development and how you can use it.
  • “Owning” your career versus “renting it,” and the importance of having a developmental mindset.
  • How emerging leaders don’t need to wait around for the organization to develop them.
  • How to use stretch assignments and rounding out experiences.
  • The two “Ps” of talent development.
  • Moving in, moving up and moving on – managing career turns.
  • Every job involves a social contract and the contract’s four elements.
  • The five core competencies of nonprofit CEOs.

We managed to pack a lot into just 34 minutes! I hope you’ll have a listen.

Available on the Inspired Nonprofit Leadership podcast page, or on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app.

The time to start planning for leadership succession… is NOW!

It’s unavoidable. Your nonprofit’s executive leader will leave sooner or later, maybe even sooner than you think. And yet, if your nonprofit is like most, a succession plan has not been discussed.

Time Is Now

Too often considered an awkward or uncomfortable conversation, many choose to avoid the issue or wait until it happens. While this choice is very likely to have a negative impact on the organization, preparing for succession opens up a whole range of dialogues that lead to a stronger, better prepared organization.

This article addresses how to prepare for a smooth transition regardless of how or when your executive leaves.

If your nonprofit is like most, there’s an 80% chance your organization does not have a succession plan in place for the chief executive position, even though there’s a 100% chance that he or she will leave the role eventually.

Steer clear of two risky mindsets

There seem to be two mindsets behind this lack of attention to leadership succession: the denial mindset and the replacement mindset.

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Leaving Work That’s Been Your Calling

Redirecting, discovering and developing callings in post-career life

Work can be viewed as a job (a source of money and security), a career (a source of achievement and advancement), or a calling (a source of meaning and purpose).[1]

callings

Since the days of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the notion of a “calling” has been associated with religion. But researchers have found strong parallels between secular and sacred callings.

In the secular sense, a calling has been described as “an approach to work that reflects the belief that one’s career is a central part of a broader sense of purpose and meaning in life and is used to help others or advance the greater good in some fashion.”[2] Others say that it also involves a sense of “duty, sacrifice, and vigilance.”[3]

How can you tell if you have a calling?

Researchers say that regardless of whether the source is religious or secular, callings have the following three characteristics:

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What to Do When Your Executive Director Leaves

The Board’s 6 Tasks for Managing a Successful Transition

Nearly every board faces the challenge of hiring a new chief executive at some point. And when it comes to managing the CEO transition, every board seems to remember that terse line in the bylaws. You know — the one that reads, “the board is responsible for hiring and supervising the chief executive.” Unfortunately, that directive is terribly short advice. It doesn’t come close to addressing the board’s full responsibility for managing CEO turnover.

What to do when your executive director leaves

CEO transitions are complicated, but managing them well is easier than you think. This post outlines the board’s six tasks for managing the transition the right way. But before we talk about what to do, let’s cover what not to do.

The first common mistake is seeing the transition only as a hiring problem. In reality, hiring the new chief executive is a part of a much larger transition process. It’s a process that involves more changes than who occupies the chief executive position. Ignoring this larger process means you’re ignoring a lot of the related changes and risks — leaving them to chance rather than being intentionally managed.

The second common mistake is rushing through the process. When boards discover that their executive is planning to leave, many rush to fill the position as soon as possible.

The pressure to jump in the search mode is understandable. Hiring a new chief executive is among the board’s biggest responsibilities. And, it’s foreign territory for nearly every board. Faced with complexity and the threat of the unfamiliar, the board is experiencing a form of pain. And we all want the pain to go away as quickly as possible.

But rushing leads to cutting corners and skipping over aspects of the transition that can yield big dividends. A CEO transition is an opportunity to level up an organization’s game plan and capabilities, not just manage the potential downsides.

Now, let’s take a look at those six tasks. This figure outlines how these tasks fall along the three phases of the CEO Succession Timeline, discussed in a previous post.

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Chief Executive Transitions: How to Hire and Support a Nonprofit CEO, Second Edition (Washington, DC: BoardSource, 2019)

Every nonprofit board will face the challenge of hiring a new chief executive at some point. CEO transitions are complicated, but managing them well is easier than you think. In fact, properly handled, the process can be an opportunity to enhance your organization and increase its mission impact.

Organized into six can-do tasks, Chief Executive Transitions guides boards through the entire transition process — from planning for leadership change through the post-hire onboarding of their new CEO.

It includes a toolkit with timelines, checklists, templates, worksheets, sample documents, and more.

The first edition of this book won The Terry McAdam Book Award and was adopted by national organizations, such as the YMCA of the USA, as the CEO transition guide for their members.

Planning the Handoff

How to hand off the CEO role to your successor

The final stage in the succession process for the departing executive is handing off the role to their successor. This consists of at least a meeting, if not a series of meetings, between the exiting and incoming executives.

handoff

I’ve proposed elsewhere that unless they are being fired or there are other extenuating circumstances, the departing executive has three jobs during the succession process as a leader in transition. In addition to leading the organization and preparing themselves for life’s next chapter, they have a responsibility to ensure that the organization is ready to work effectively with their successor. And a key part of that preparation is

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