Here’s a riddle: What’s something your nonprofit wishes it would never need, but might be glad to have when the time comes?

If you refer back to the title of the blog, a gold star.

You see today, we’re diving into a topic that’s often tucked away in the nonprofit sphere: succession planning. And while it may seem like a daunting task, it’s too important to ignore. So put on your strategic thinking hats, and let’s talk about how to create a succession plan for your organization.

Why does your nonprofit need a succession plan?

Picture this scenario: Your executive director, the linchpin of your organization, wins the lottery and decides to retire. What will you do to keep operations flowing smoothly? Are you prepared?

Without a succession plan, you could face a whirlwind of disruptions, from stalled projects to a dip in staff morale. But with a well-crafted plan, you’ll not only have peace of mind but also ensure that your organization stays on its strategic path, even amid significant transitions. A succession plan can be a lifesaver, keeping your nonprofit’s mission alive and thriving.

Succession planning: an opportunity, not a chore

Let’s debunk a myth right away: Succession planning doesn’t have to be a gloomy task. In fact, it can be a golden opportunity to assess your organization’s strengths and areas for improvement. For example, you might discover that you’re leaning too heavily on one team member. This realization could be an excellent chance to offer professional development opportunities, creating a more balanced and resilient team.

Moreover, succession planning is a great way to acknowledge your long-standing, committed employees—those who truly make a difference—and provide them with more growth opportunities.

Key elements of your succession plan

When creating a succession plan, be sure to consider a few key details for a comprehensive and effective strategy:

1. Identify key roles: While you’re pondering your top-tier leadership, don’t overlook other crucial roles that could be challenging to fill if someone left abruptly. These roles could require specific skills and may have a significant impact on your nonprofit’s operations.

2. Assess skills and knowledge: Are there any gaps in skills, knowledge or experience that you could address through training or professional development starting now? Ask yourself, “What skills will your organization need in the coming years?” The trick is to plan ahead.

3. Develop internal talent: Who are your superstars who might be ready to step up? Would any of your high-performing employees be open to training to fill the void following an absence? Or will you need to hire from the outside? Developing internal talent prepares your organization for future changes, and may help retain top performers by providing them with growth opportunities.

Communicating your plan

Lastly: It’s time to get everyone on the same page. Decide how and when you’ll communicate the succession plan to staff, board members and other stakeholders. Clear (and early) communication—possibly through a well-established org. chart—can help avoid misunderstandings and ensure everyone is prepared for potential changes.

Wrapping up

The bottom line? Like every good Eagle Scout, succession planning is about being prepared, and ensuring that your nonprofit organization continues to thrive, even amidst change. And remember—it’s not just about filling a position; it’s about upholding the culture, values and strategic direction of the organization that you’ve worked so hard to achieve. The time invested in a solid plan now will pay off when life’s one big inevitable—change—occurs.