Your Guide to Nonprofit Succession Planning for Boards

By |Published On: April 5, 2023|
group gathered around a laptop

If you work for a nonprofit, you probably know how crucial it is to try to plan for unexpected obstacles — and how stressful it is when you don’t. Having strong leaders on your nonprofit’s board is one major way to make sure you have a good game plan on hand. 

But what happens when someone steps down with no one to take their place?

One comprehensive study found that 78% of nonprofits currently don’t have a formal board succession plan ready. This can be a major roadblock on the path to your association’s success. When you and other team members scramble to fill an empty leadership seat, you take time and focus away from working on important things, like your goals, fundraising, onboarding and mission initiatives.

That’s why having a nonprofit succession planning is essential.

[Related: Board Recruitment Plan: How To Build an Effective Board of Directors]

What Is a Board Succession Plan?

A board succession plan is just what it sounds like: an organized plan in place for recruiting or moving up a person to take the place of someone leaving the board. 

Board members may step down for a variety of reasons:

  • Resignation (with short or manageable notice)
  • Unexpected health or family issues
  • Firing or quitting
  • Upcoming term limit

Board succession plans are long-term strategies that should help your board not only recruit more effectively but also move more seamlessly through both planned and unexpected board membership interruptions.

[Related: Creating an Effective Nominating Process for Your Organization]

Importance of Succession Planning for Nonprofits

Losing a member of your nonprofit’s board can bring challenges, even if you expected the departure. Having a strong succession plan in place when the time comes can help your nonprofit in many ways. Furthermore, knowing which moves to make next boosts the organization’s success and minimizes disruptions.

The benefits of succession planning include the following:

  • Maintaining a consistent workflow
  • Strengthening the composition and diversity of the leadership team
  • Ensuring long-term sustainability
  • Developing a process for obtaining talent
  • Maintaining a balance of power on the board
  • Promoting seamless transitions and eliminating gaps

Remember: A board member’s departure isn’t always a negative thing. A vacancy on the board allows you to find new voices, new ideas, additional skill sets and diverse perspectives. A well-developed succession plan can help your nonprofit optimize these opportunities and smoothly move through the shift.

Best Practices for Nonprofit Board Succession Planning

Now that you know why planning for board succession is so critical to your nonprofit’s growth and success, let’s review the best practices for setting up that plan. While starting from scratch may seem difficult, creating a nonprofit board succession plan doesn’t have to be intimidating. That’s especially true if you break it down into easily digestible key steps. 

[Related: Top 10 Reasons To Select CM Services as Your AMC]

Create a Committee for Board Nomination

First, you should establish a committee for board nomination. This group will specialize in all the steps for board succession, from start to finish. With a set committee, specific people will oversee the transition when a board vacancy occurs. 

This committee can develop and recommend criteria for board composition and lead the search for new candidates. Each person should have a clear role and list of responsibilities to help new candidates transition into their board position. 

Assess Potential Vacancies

Next, you must assess potential board vacancies to eliminate surprises as much as possible. Conduct annual reviews with board members, and take notes of everyone’s long- and short-term plans for their stay. 

Planned vacancies, such as term limits or retirements, are easy to plan for, but emergencies like unexpected resignations do happen. 

Determine how long you can keep open each position on the board before it really negatively affects your nonprofit. Consider designating people involved in your organization who could step in and fill the space in the interim, and ensure you stay in compliance with all legal regulations for a nonprofit.

Decide Between Internal and External Recruiting

Start recruiting for planned vacancies early — about six months in advance. For emergency departures, it’s obviously best to start searching for new candidates as soon as possible. You may look internally or externally to fill the seat.

Internal recruiting has its benefits. These people are already part of the organization and presumably understand your nonprofit’s values, mission and culture. 

External recruiting can also be beneficial. For example, recruiting from outside the organization can bring fresh perspectives and diversity to the board.

[Related: The Membership Recruitment Plan Every Association Should Implement]

Establish a Streamlined Onboarding Process

Once you find the right candidate, you should have an established, streamlined onboarding process ready to go. Your onboarding process should follow a few definite steps:

  • Familiarizing the new board leader with all the role’s key responsibilities and expectations 
  • Conducting regular check-ins and assessments as they acclimate 
  • Introducing them to others working in your organization
  • Getting them involved in your organization’s culture 

Having a prepared onboarding process will create a much smoother transition later.

Advance Your Mission With a Strong Board

Always get your team’s feedback on this process. Hold multiple meetings, and leave your inbox open for questions, concerns and ideas to continually improve your nonprofit succession planning model.

CM Services is an experienced association management company that has your best interests at heart. We provide a variety of expert services — from board and committee management to strategic and operational planning — to help nonprofits grow and achieve their goals.

Contact CM Services today for further information and support with creating a succession plan and implementing best practices for your association’s board! 

Featured image via Unsplash

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