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How do I get started with succession planning?

Creating a succession plan is essential for ensuring the smooth transition of leadership within your organization.

Here are the steps to get started:

  1. Acknowledge the need: Recognize the importance of having a succession plan in place to ensure organizational stability and continuity in case of planned or unplanned leadership changes.

  2. Engage the board and key stakeholders: Involve your board members, senior leadership, and other key stakeholders in the succession planning process. Their input and support are crucial for a successful plan.

  3. Identify critical roles: Determine which positions within your organization are essential for its functioning and success. These roles will be the focus of your succession plan.

  4. Assess current talent: Evaluate the skills, experience, and potential of your existing staff members. Identify those who may be ready or could be developed to take on leadership roles in the future.

  5. Develop a leadership pipeline: Create a strategy for developing internal talent by providing opportunities for growth, training, and mentorship. This will help prepare potential successors for leadership roles.

  6. Establish an emergency plan: Develop a plan to address unexpected leadership changes, outlining the delegation of duties and authority during such situations.

  7. Customize your plans: Move beyond planning for just one specific leader’s transition. Consider possible future departures for all high-level positions.

  8. Monitor and update the plan: Regularly review and update your succession plan to ensure it remains relevant and effective. This should be done at least annually or whenever significant organizational changes occur.

By following these steps, you can create a comprehensive succession plan that prepares your organization for leadership transitions and ensures its long-term success.

Here’s a sample outline of a succession plan for a nonprofit organization:


  • Purpose and importance of the succession plan

  • Scope and objectives of the plan

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Board of Directors’ role in succession planning

  • Executive Director/CEO’s role in succession planning

  • Senior management’s role in succession planning

Identification of Key Positions

  • List of critical leadership roles within the organization

  • Description of responsibilities and requirements for each role

Assessment of Current Talent

  • Evaluation of existing staff members’ skills, experience, and potential

  • Identification of potential internal candidates for key positions

Leadership Development and Training

  • Strategies for developing internal talent (e.g., mentoring, coaching, training programs)

  • Opportunities for growth and advancement within the organization

Emergency Succession Plan

  • Procedures for addressing unexpected leadership changes (e.g., sudden resignation, illness)

  • Delegation of duties and authority during emergency situations

Planned Succession Process

  • Timeline for planned leadership transitions (e.g., retirement, end of contract)

  • Steps for conducting a search for external candidates, if necessary

  • Onboarding and orientation process for new leaders

Communication and Implementation

  • Strategies for communicating the succession plan to staff, board members, and stakeholders

  • Monitoring and updating the plan as needed

Evaluation and Review

  • Regular review of the succession plan to ensure its effectiveness and relevance

  • Adjustments to the plan based on organizational changes or lessons learned from previous transitions

This outline serves as a starting point for developing a succession plan tailored to your nonprofit organization’s specific needs and circumstances. Remember to engage key stakeholders in the process to ensure that your plan is well-supported and effective.

Further reading:

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