Welcome! Fall has arrived in the Hudson Valley with its predictable change of colors. Yet nonprofits don’t operate like the seasons. Many things are unpredictable, which makes being prepared all the more important.

This roundup is the second of a series on “breaking the crisis mentality” in nonprofit behavior. The focus here is on changes in executive leadership, which are inevitable. Crisis occurs when nonprofits lack a plan and protocol for filling pivotal positions. The resources below provide helpful guidance for succession planning, including the value of an interim executive director in the process.

I’m pleased to announce my newly updated website. I’ve streamlined information and added a Suggested by SJR archive. I invite you to take a look.

Breaking the Crisis Mentality: Succession Planning

1. Practical Pointers on Leadership Transitions
This National Council of Nonprofits article is brief but hits hard on why succession planning is essential, including connections to organizational sustainability and what grant makers expect in continuity and reliability. There are discouraging stats on how few nonprofits have a written succession plan. If yours is among the great majority without, get started with these transition tips, pointers on the process and plenty of resource links to browse. One in particular that impressed me is a comprehensive Nonprofit Executive Succession Toolkit. It’s from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas, but the information and planning templates can apply broadly.
2. When Nonprofits Initiate Executive Exits
Any discussion on succession planning has to consider different scenarios that create an opening for executive director. If most organizations have no written succession plan, even more may lack a prearranged procedure for how to ask an executive director to depart. From the comments, this Blue Avocado how-to article is a few years old. Yet the 2017 posts are evidence of a topic that resonates. Look for guidance to ensure your succession planning covers all the bases, including how to say “You’re out” to an executive director in the most fair and professional way.
3. Case Study in Successful Succession Planning
One of the best ways to learn is by example, and that’s the beauty of this Nonprofit Quarterly case study (premium content accessible with the site’s free views). A long-time executive director plans to retire in three years, which triggers a need for thoughtful decision-making — and the choice to launch succession planning sooner than later. Also significant is the relationship between director and board; the director’s honesty in sharing his future end date pays off for all. The piece is rich with additional resources. Case in point is a 2017 CompassPoint/Raffa report on executive transition practices by article author Tom Adams.
4. Why to Opt for an Interim Director
When an executive director leaves, “the worst strategy is to be in a hurry … to get a warm body to fill the vacancy,” writes consultant Laura Stokes-Gray. She argues for deliberation over speed and calm over panic in this Association of Consultants to Nonprofits blog. Key to having the time to “evaluate priorities” is an interim executive director. This quick read provides basics on how a temporary leader works to a nonprofit’s benefit. (For more on IEDs, consider the 2005 report, Interim Executive Directors: The Power in the Middle, an “evergreen” resource from the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund and Annie E. Casey Foundation.)
5. Interim Leadership Beyond the IED
Senior leadership is not limited to the executive director — nor should interim professionals when other power positions must be filled. The Bridgespan Group profile here details the reasoning and logistics that led the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston to have an interim chief operating officer for nearly 18 months. The article summarizes pros and cons of engaging a provisional leader. It also makes clear that given the critical need to find the right person, for purposes of succession planning, building in the possibility of choosing an interim for any senior spot is just wise policy.

Susan J. Ragusa is a nonprofit strategist with expertise in board/executive leadership and fundraising. She applies her early career experience in education through workshops, speaker and panel presentations. Susan is a go-to source of common-sense advice, problem-solving and resources for tackling organizational challenges. (Photo by Ed Lefkowicz)

Copyright © 2017 Susan J Ragusa, All rights reserved.

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