Seven Types of Executive Director Transitions and How to Manage Them

While every nonprofit and its executive director transition are unique, these leadership transitions tend to follow seven broad patterns. And each of these types needs its own set of actions to manage the transition well.

We’ll get into the types in a moment, but first, let’s look at some of the overall factors that most influence the transition and, therefore, the approach to managing it.

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Leaving Work That’s Been Your Calling

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).

Since the days of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the Protestant Reformation, the notion of a “calling” has been associated with religion. But researchers have found strong parallels between secular and sacred callings. They say that regardless of whether the source is religious or secular, a calling has three characteristics:[i]

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Build Your Succession Plan with this Free Guide

No succession plan? With this free step-by-step guide, you can get “succession essentials” in place for your executive director position. And you can do it painlessly and with less than an hour’s work in many cases. The guide includes: Simple, step-by-step instructions to develop “the essentials,” a board-adopted succession policy and a backup plan for … Read more

The Three Phases of the Nonprofit Executive Succession Timeline

Executive director succession — the process of managing the turnover in a nonprofit’s chief executive position — involves a range of decisions, actions, and events spread over a year or more. The process begins with the incumbent executive’s decision to leave (or the board’s decision to make a leadership change). And it doesn’t conclude until the successor has settled into the role.

A well-planned executive succession involves three phases: sustainingtransitioning, and onboarding & support, as outlined in the graphic below. The timing of these phases can vary depending on the executive’s departure circumstances, the organization’s size and condition, whether a successor is waiting in the wings, and other factors.

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Webinar Replay: Nonprofit Succession Planning Made Easy

In this 60-minute webinar offered by GRF CPAs & Advisors, Trevor W. Williams, CPA and Don Tebbe cover: The three approaches to executive succession planning and their application What succession planning can do for your organization and which type would be best for your situation/needs The key steps to put “Succession Essentials” in place: a board-adopted … Read more

Two Courageous Questions to Ask Before Launching Your Executive Director Transition

Before forging ahead with an executive director transition and hiring a successor, there are two courageous questions that the board should ask about their nonprofit: should our organization continue? And a related question: should it continue in its current form?

These questions are seldom asked because we’re usually operating in business-as-usual mode. Our work is a continuum of opportunities and challenges. And leadership succession is just another problem to solve. Thus, we don’t recognize succession for what it is — a critical punctuation point in the organization’s history.

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Three Executive Succession Plans Your Nonprofit Should Have

The term “succession planning” can mean different things to different people. Some think it results in an “insurance policy” that ensures continuity when a leader is unexpectedly unavailable. Others, especially corporate board members, think it’s about leadership development — a plan to groom a single leader or a program to create a pipeline of leaders. Still others believe it’s an exit strategy for a soon-to-retire executive. All three of these interpretations are correct.

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The Six Biggest Nonprofit Executive Succession Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Executive director succession–planning for and managing the change from one chief executive to the next–is one of the nonprofit board’s most important responsibilities and 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 executive director succession mistakes, 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

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

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.

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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.

Fewer than 20% of nonprofits have a succession plan in place for their chief executive position, even though there’s a 100% chance the executive will leave the role eventually.

Too often considered an awkward or uncomfortable conversation, many choose to avoid the topic. While ignoring the subject leaves the organization ill-prepared when the inevitable happens, preparing for succession opens up a whole range of dialogues that lead to a stronger, more resilient organization.

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

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