Recently I gave the “if I were hit by the bus” talk. When someone leaves your organization unexpectedly, whether it is a chief executive, a leader, a board member, key staff person or a valuable volunteer, major disruption results. It sometimes feels like diving off the diving board blindfolded, or beating a hasty exit in the ensuing crisis.
Often we try hard to avoid the topic of succession planning altogether. However, research in the nonprofit sector claims that 65% of Executive Directors and Board Chairs expect to leave their positions within the next five years. 85% of them do not have written leadership sustainability plans. So open your eyes and consider doing some planning.
Anticipate. Begin by conducting an open, transparent process for considering the possible consequences of losing a key person in your organization. Start with something as simple as reviewing all job descriptions.
Prepare. Brainstorm actions that mitigate potential risks. Ask each key person to create their own succession plan. Identify primary outside contacts that are critical to your success.
Document everything. Create a binder of essential resources. Develop a standard protocol for recordkeeping, passwords and file storage.
Identify a continuity officer. Susan Ellis suggests that you should identify one key person to be the keeper of the records of your organization. That includes documenting the organization’s history, copies of minutes, newsletters and key communications. Track policies and procedures. Understand the organizational structure and culture.
Engage your business partners. Leverage their expertise. Seek their advice. Gain financial and pro bono support. Many of them are happy to provide business planning services and not just financial support.
Identify potential. Target emerging leaders and engage them in new ways. Create a leadership pipeline and demonstrate that “This is a place to grow.”
Develop bench strength and build teams. Cross-train volunteers and staff to understand the various responsibilities and functions of others. Build self-sufficient and self-directed teams.
Coach and Mentor. Give new and less experienced volunteers opportunities to learn skills and exercise leadership.
Provide training for all. Orient them to the organization, both to the physical space and your mission and goals. Identify training opportunities within and outside your organization. Be transparent by inviting questions and sharing information.
Celebrate. No matter how small the steps are that you take on the path of creating a sustainability plan, cheerlead for those efforts. Communicate widely internally and externally. The community will appreciate your long range thinking.