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Giving Smart: Leadership Transition Leaves Big Shoes to Fill


Have you attended an increasing number of retirement parties lately? Are you updating your database more frequently with new leadership emerging at partner organizations?

As Baby Boomers reach retirement age (and at an astonishing rate ? estimates show 8,000 to 10,000 per day over the next 15 years) it is clear that the workforce is experiencing a period of significant leadership transition.  As well, executives and senior managers sometimes vacate their positions for reasons unforeseen, such as a prolonged illness or a job opportunity elsewhere.  As these trusted leaders exit, filling their shoes can be a daunting task.  Among the questions to consider: Does the shoe still fit?  Is it time for a new style? 

Succession planning is critical to the long-term stability of an organization, yet most nonprofits are reluctant to begin the process.  We get it.  It can be scary.  Only 21% of the 500+ organizations featured on GiveRichmond.org have a management succession plan.  Small organizations are hindered by a perceived lack of resources, while larger organizations fear that the departure of a key leader may threaten long-term relationships.  

For those who can overcome these initial reservations, succession planning can be a great opportunity for organizational growth and learning.  Understanding that every organization will both lose and gain leaders over time is the first step. Now is the time to develop a plan. Here are few things to consider as you begin the process:

  • Identify the leadership competencies required to fulfill the long-term strategic goals of your organization.
  • Create staff training plans that will allow current employees to take on greater responsibility and serve as back-up for managers, if needed. If you are a small organization, identify board members or key volunteers who can back up key executive functions.
  • Encourage senior staff to serve as coaches as they share responsibilities with the next generation of leaders.  This will help reassure the board, donors and other important partners that leadership is broadly shared and backed up.
  • Avoid the superhero scenario, which occurs when executive directors have taken on so much responsibility over time that it becomes nearly impossible to replace them. Transitions may allow for restructuring.

Other recommended resources that can help you prepare for planned and unplanned leadership transitions:

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GiveRichmond/GiveSouthsideVA is a program of The Community Foundation Serving Richmond & Central Virginia (TCF). As strategic partners with ConnectVA, TCF and GiveRichmond/GiveSouthsdeVA encourage smart giving by identifying trends and success stories in local philanthropy through their Giving Smart blog series. If you have ideas about topics you would like to have covered, please comment below!

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