Every not-for-profit organization needs a comprehensive succession plan to ensure smooth leadership transitions. Here are five tips for making a written plan successful:

1. Look within. It’s important to develop employees who can move up the ladder when an executive director or other senior manager leaves. But don’t rule out hiring an outsider. Promoting from within can be difficult for smaller organizations with limited “bench strength.”

2. Maintain a strong board. A qualified, active board can conduct or assist in the search process and support the new executive during the transition period.

3. Strengthen systems and procedures. Solid systems and well-documented procedures help you leverage organizational knowledge and keep your nonprofit running smoothly during leadership transitions.

4. Expect the unexpected. Ideally, any succession will be planned and allow for time to identify and recruit a successor and move that person into the job. However, you also need to plan for sudden departures. Outline policies for communicating with donors, clients and the press if a leadership emergency arises, as well as steps your board should take to find a replacement in a timely manner.

5. Think strategically. Don’t assume that your new executive should be as similar as possible to the outgoing one. Your nonprofit and its constituencies change over time. Succession planning provides a great opportunity to re-evaluate your strategies and identify new qualities that will be important going forward.

When a nonprofit organization loses its executive director or other leaders, it risks declining contributions, lowered employee morale and program disruption. Contact us for help creating a succession plan that will help minimize such risks.