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Who’s Next?

Does your nonprofit have the plans and processes in place to handle executive transition? According to a recent study from The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, probably not.

Their findings indicate that less than a third of Metro Atlanta nonprofits are preparing to navigate these transitions. Yet, succession planning is widely recognized as an essential practice to ensure organizational sustainability, whether navigating a planned or unexpected departure—and something grantmakers are increasingly demanding.

According to The Community Foundation’s Senior Program Officer Lita Pardi, “deliberate conversations around planning for your organization’s future” are so critical that they’ve become a priority of the Foundation’s Nonprofit Toolbox program. “A nonprofit without a succession plan,” says Pardi, “is similar to an individual not having a will.”

As a follow-up to the survey, GCN’s Nonprofit Consulting Group conducted a focus group with 11 recently-hired nonprofit CEOs. Participants provided first-hand testimony on the challenges facing a new leader, shared strategies for navigating their new role, and confirmed the need for guidance and resources to support new leaders through this critical period.

According to the survey responses, nonprofits commonly only begin the succession planning process when a standing executive announces plans to leave or retire. However, best practices call for long-term planning to identify current talent and talent gaps, then using that information to plan external hires and develop current staff at every level. This ensures organizational growth, continuity, and ongoing improvement to meet current and future needs. Also needed is an emergency succession plan, so that interim leadership can act quickly to ensure that operations continue to run smoothly, from communicating the change with stakeholders to seeing that key documents and passwords are passed along.

Find articles and tools from GCN’s Nonprofit Consulting Group experts including “The Three Obstacles to Succession Planning” and “Succession Planning and the CEO-Board Disconnect.”

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