Succession Tomorrow Starts Today

Susan E Mangels Senior Vice President Consulting Services at AC Fitzgerald Author

Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D, Senior Vice President of Consulting Services

You work hard every day to help your organization achieve its mission. In doing so, it’s easy to focus solely on today at the expense of tomorrow. But leaders have the crucial responsibility of ensuring that their organizations are secure for the future. This includes planning for leadership succession.

A strong leadership succession plan keeps programs on track (including fundraising programs!), empowers staff to work at optimal levels, and assures donors of the vibrancy and strength your organization. A good succession process can raise a nonprofit’s profile in a positive manner—while a succession stumble can wreak havoc on an organization and harm its long-term health and reputation.

An official succession plan is essential, as it will guide you through leadership changes that are gradual and expected, and perhaps even more so, through those that are sudden and unanticipated.

Tips as you compile your succession plan:

  • Understand and write down the leadership needs of your organization now and in the future. What do you have now that is valuable? What do you need to acquire with the next leader?
  • Include stakeholders such as board, staff, donors, and other key players. Clarify how they will be part of the process.
  • Define the positions for which you will plan succession. Is it the executive director only? Depending on your particular programs and operations, planning for the next program director or development team leader might make sense, too.
  • Learn from other organizations’ successes and stumbles. What have like-minded groups done to ensure effective leadership succession?
  • Estimate or set a timeline for the leadership change(s) to take place. Work backward from that date to schedule your succession process activities.
  • What’s the launch plan? Define resources that need to be in place to commence the process. Do you hire counsel to coach and pace? What organizational traditions must be upheld?
  • Understand that change is hard. Provide clear messaging on the process, and factor in time for introductions and conversation.
  • Recognize that you may discover things that need to be addressed as the plan unfolds. Build time into your schedule for continual evaluation and improvement.

Key to effective succession is investing time and resources in crafting a well thought out strategic plan for your organization, leadership, and supporters. Take the first step today.

Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D. serves as Senior Vice President of Consulting Services at AC Fitzgerald. She uses her expertise in fundraising, management, and leadership development to oversee our consulting efforts and deliver exceptional service to clients.

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