Good succession plans come out of thinking, planning, and conversations to clarify roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Here are some sample conversation-starters:
- Are we structured with the future in mind? Do we attend to future needs for leadership, growth, and opportunity?
- Do we have term limits for staff or board? What are the benefits and costs of doing so?
- Do we attend to issues of governance (e.g., nominating committee, scheduled retreats, learning sessions, board self-assessment procedures)?
- Do we have a system for sharing and growing leadership (board and staff)?
- Do we have a clear set of values, and how do we use those values? What policies or organizational practices express our values?
- How mature is our organization in age and temperament? What are the implications for qualities we value or require in leadership?
- Where do we fit into the philanthropic landscape? Who are our peers and partners, and what do their board and staff leaders look like?
- Where do we hope to be as an organization in 5, 10, and 20 years?
Depending on the board’s size and culture, it may be appropriate to identify a committee to develop and present a draft succession plan to the full board. Once the draft includes a practical series of action steps that reflect the organization’s culture, the board can consider adopting the plan as a formal policy.
Staff and board members who have created leadership succession plans report to us a sense of relief in knowing what to do in case of emergency or departure. Leaders also report increased confidence that the organizations they have shepherded are well equipped for the future.