Planning for Effective
Succession Management

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In a world based on “real time” everything, organizations seeking increased philanthropy should plan well ahead to anticipate leadership changes in order to ensure successful transitions. This is important to minimize uncertainty, internally with staff and externally with donors.

But can you really anticipate change, and should you really spend time planning ahead? The answer is “yes” to both questions.

Reacting to turnover is never good…for the organization or its donors. Reacting requires spending unnecessary time to assess your situation and plan next steps when this could all have been done ahead of the event. Anticipating both planned transitions (retirements, etc.) and unplanned transitions (leaders take a position elsewhere, dismissals, etc.) will pay off.

Three Keys for Readiness:

  1. Conduct annual leadership “competencies” assessment, not just a “performance review” against goals. Competencies should include: strategic thinking, executive presence, communications, operational execution, business acumen, effective relationships, adapting to change and the like. Standard goals include amount of gift income, budget management, number of new donors and service. Compare and contrast the assessment of competencies and goals performance for all key development staff with development leadership. Involve both development and executive leadership of your organization in a separate calibration session to add different perspectives for objectivity.
  2. Convene annually a “vision and direction” session engaging key staff, executive and board leadership along with a couple of key donors. Discuss general direction of the organization over the next three to five years based on current and forecasted market conditions. Are we on the right path? Do we need a new path? What issues need to be addressed to help refine direction? Are goal measures for success going forward the same? Will needed competencies going forward be the same? This process will keep fresh leadership requirements (competencies and performance measures) to drive future performance.
  3. Based on the above, are the right leaders in place now and for future success? If so, good, time well spent. If change is needed, with updated leadership profiles in hand, you are prepared to plan for changes now (such as enhanced training, coaching) or plan for change of a position. And, you can plan for anticipated future change or responses to unanticipated future change.

Attending to these Three Keys for Readiness will eliminate much unnecessary time spent in leadership succession and lessen uncertainty for staff and donors — both critical to your organization’s success.