Successful Executive Transitions

2 minute read

Planning for a successful executive transition is a critical component of strategic planning for all organizations and is key to sustainability. Among the many ways nonprofits can prepare, we explore the steps and roles to assure successful transitions; challenges that arise and how to be adaptive; approaches when long-time and founding executives leave versus when the executive is no longer a good fit for the organization; when and how to use a search firm; and how to infuse equity throughout the transition process.

Embracing the Inevitable. It is inevitable the leader will leave. Embracing the inevitable is key to success in planning for succession. Every organization should have a succession plan that addresses a short-term unplanned exit and a long-term plan for leadership changes, and each plan should take into consideration the culture and community in which the organization operates.

Relationships with the Board. So many people - employees, volunteers, and board members - all contribute to the organization's success and deserve to have their work continued. As executives, we need to be able to turn to our boards of directors, especially our board chairs, to make both short- and long-term plans possible.

The Short-Term Plan. The board of directors and the organization’s executive leadership is responsible for making sure that the viability of the organization is supported by strategic planning that accounts for an emergency or unexpected transition. A short-term plan prepares the organization’s board and leadership team for an unexpected or temporary absence of its leader for about two to four months.

Succession Planning in a Time of Uncertainty. These past couple of years have taken a toll on so many of our dedicated nonprofit leaders that many organizations may be facing unplanned transitions simply because the stressors have become too much. In an abrupt transition or the absence of a formal plan, boards of directors have the opportunity to lean in with support for the out-going executive director, acknowledge his/her contributions, and convey to the staff and public, including funders, that this transition can be positive for the organization.

Insights from an Interim President/CEO. When the outgoing executive leaves before the next is hired, an organization may choose to hire an interim executive. An interim president and CEO shares her lessons learned about essential preparations for the role, ways to adapt to the organization’s culture and staff, orientation advice, and important steps to continue the transition process.

EDI and the Executive Search. The benefits of hiring and supporting a diverse team are well known. It takes intention to embed your organizational values around equity, diversity and inclusion in your search process, committee, outreach, recruitment, and onboarding.


For more guidance on executive transitions, talk one-on-one with an expert through our Executive Transitions Pro Bono Program, and visit Information Central for resources and templates.


Board Governance
Equity, Diversity, Inclusion
Financial Management
Organizational Development
Partnerships & Collaboration
Risk Management
Strategic Communication
Strategic Planning
Succession Planning