CEO succession planning is no longer just for retirement

By December 17, 2018Uncategorized

By Bryan Orander, president, Charitable Advisors

Earlier this year, I interviewed a 30-something arts organization’s CEO about leadership and staff development and the discussion turned to CEO turnover and succession planning. I explained that more than half of the leadership transitions that Charitable Advisors’ supports are for retiring nonprofit executives.

The arts organization CEO surprised me by taking the conversation in a different direction, sharing that she feels most successful leaders her age see their roles as 3-5 years and then they want to move to a different challenge to continue to grow as leaders.

This may be an emerging trend to watch. Looking at the last 50 leadership transitions we have supported, only two have had tenures less than two years, but two clients from 2013 have recently called us as their young, successful leaders move to new opportunities.

That means that board and staff leaders need to be extra vigilant in defining what succession planning looks like to sustain their organizations:

Succession planning for retirement: Traditionally, serious succession planning is done when an older leader is willing to share that they see retirement on the horizon. From past experience, the board, hoping it is an idea that will pass, sometimes ignores this. More appropriately, it triggers conversations about reviewing/grooming potential internal successors and taking the leader’s retirement into account in organizational planning.

Do it without the pending retirement: Every organization has the opportunity to approach succession planning to prepare for an unexpected leadership departure plus the chance to attract and develop more staff and board leaders.These discussions also have the positive side effect of making those key roles more “do-able” by actively sharing leadership with others.

For its direct and concise explanations, one of my favorite resources on this topic is a white paper written by my friend and Noblesville native Tim Wolford for the Annie E. Casey Foundation called “Building Leaderful Organizations”

Your funders and donors care: For years, United Way has mandated that organizations have written succession plans. Foundation leaders are very aware of how important leaders are to their grantee organizations, and also that every capable leader eventually leaves.

Are you prepared? What’s your plan if your senior leader gives a year’s notice or becomes ill, or your younger leader gives you a few weeks’ notice?  Call Bryan Orander at 317-752-7153 or Bryan@CharitableAdvisors.comto learn more or talk about applying these insights to your organization.

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