How to Talk About Succession Planning Without Causing Anxiety

I have never seen nonprofit executives and board members react with such discomfort as when someone mentions “succession.” There are usually awkward half-laughs, glances around the room to see how others are reacting, and then, a sense of liberation – finally, someone has mentioned the dreaded topic. The chief executive is concerned that mentioning succession will make the board think she/he is thinking about leaving. The board is concerned that it will send an unintended message to the chief executive that she/he should be thinking about moving on. If a founder is involved, let’s face it, the level of uneasiness skyrockets.

At the Threshold of a Leadership Transition: What’s on the Other Side?

Consulting with nonprofits on strategic planning and organizational development, I’ve seen how succession planning has emerged as a very important task for the board and executive leadership. Succession planning involves developing talent within an organization to assume higher levels of responsibility, as well as identifying a plan for seamless continuity when the executive director/CEO leaves.

When an organization has a succession plan in place, stakeholders tend to feel confident that come what may, they will be prepared. In reality, however, when a nonprofit board of directors is faced with an executive leadership transition, they cross a threshold into uncharted territory.