This post orginally appeared at connection cafe on January 20, 2012. Two words a board chair never wants to hear from their ED. Few things can be as disruptive to an organizations success as an Executive Director transition. The staff may be crushed. Your board chair will likely feel horrible this happened on their watch. Mine did three years ago when I told my board chair that after 12 years at the helm I was leaving the organization. 

I’m not alone. According to the 2011 Daring to Lead report, 34% of nonprofit executives will depart within 2 years. You might be surprised to learn that your for-profit leadership peers were pegged at lower attrition, only 25% according to the Corporate Executive Board.  What’s really shocking is only 17% of organizations have a documented succession plan. 

Winston Churchill said, “I am always ready to learn but I do not always like being taught.” Leadership transitions are painful but they can teach us a lot. People change jobs; it’s a fact of life. How can you be prepared? 

5 simple steps to take now:

  1. Keep up to date job descriptions.
  2. Make sure key internal process are accurately documented: passwords,  signing authority, key documentation and procedures, etc.  
  3. Have an airtight communications plan to thoughtfully communicate your change to the appropriate groups, moving from your inner circle of closest supporters outward. Leverage this important time to show gratitude to your outgoing leader, your positive outlook on your future and confidence in your temporary or incoming leadership. 
  4. Develop an Emergency Succession Plan that addresses your temporary staffing structure in case of emergency, including authority and restrictions of the Executive Director.
  5. Considering hiring an Interim Executive Director. Times of transition are critical opportunities for reflection and growth. With the expertise of a seasoned external leader to come in and provide leadership and assess the organizations health, priorities sand opportunities the staff and board can get an unbiased impartial look crucial for making decisions about what kind of leadership and direction are needed. Even better? It’s already budgeted!  Learn more about Interim Executive Director programs from my friends at Greenlights.