Succession planning makes nonprofits stronger
By Lita Pardi, senior program officer, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
For the last seven years, my work at the Community Foundation has focused on how the Foundation can help strengthen nonprofits, from providing grants for operations to funding that helps address organizational challenges. The aim is for those nonprofits to help their clients achieve their goals. Early in 2013 I began a journey to learn about what makes a nonprofit executive transition successful. We were aware that some executive directors were retiring and knew that transitions are complex, and ultimately wanted to see what role the Foundation could play.
Through my journey I learned that succession planning is critical, and that it isn’t something an organization should engage in only after their executive director has announced his/her departure. Succession plans do for nonprofits what wills or testaments do for us as individuals, they help us plan for our future. As a CEO, when you engage in succession planning, you’re thinking ahead to everything your successor and others will need to know and do in order to carry on the good work of your organization after you’re gone. As a board member, you’re thoughtfully planning to ensure that the organization is able to stand the test of time under a new leader.
This journey resulted in a program we offered in the summer of 2015 in partnership with BoardSource. The program gave a group of Atlanta-area nonprofits access to research-based instruction and individual guidance – someone in their corner guiding them along the way, holding them accountable and forcing them to answer the tough questions. We titled the program “Embrace the Future: Succession Planning for Nonprofit Organizations” because we wanted participants and their organizations to view this as an opportunity to advance their work and continue their organizations’ journeys.
As a result of participating in Embrace the Future, 100% of organizations accomplished the audacious goal we set out – all have a Succession Plan Policy, an Emergency Succession Plan and Departure-defined Succession Plan. Organizations came out stronger as they completed the required assignments, and participants experienced a renewed sense of urgency, energy and commitment toward future sustainability.
Nonprofit boards have to ensure the organization’s readiness for leadership transition by recognizing that it is more than simply hiring the next executive – it’s about ensuring the organization is truly prepared to embrace the future. We hope you’ll join us on Tuesday, June 14 for a webinar focused on executive transitions and succession planning (click here to register). We’ll also talk about the 2016 Embrace the Future program, which will launch in August.