Executive Succession & Deepening the Bench

The Challenge

A crisis is looming for nonprofits not only at the national level but in communities across North Carolina from Murphy to Manteo. In 2016, the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits conducted a statewide survey of executive directors/CEOs to learn about their job roles, career paths, plans for their own executive transitions, and boards of directors. The report, Countdown to the Inevitable: North Carolina Nonprofit CEOs in Transition, shows that nearly 60% of NC's nonprofit executive directors/CEOs plan to retire by 2020. Many are retiring baby boomers. Others are leaving for better, less stressful opportunities. Still others are departing suddenly, leaving their organizations with no one at the helm. Complicating the situation is poor handling of many CEO transitions. The problems include: 

  • Minimal planning by the board and staff; 
  • Little thought about the kind of leader the organization will need for its future; 
  • Sudden departures with no back-up plans, causing crises of low morale and shaky public confidence; 
  • Thoughtless treatment of departing leaders who dedicated their lives to the cause; 
  • Clumsy engagement of valuable staff who will likely leave if they are not respected; 
  • Successors who fail because the board does not clarify its expectations or provide support after hiring; and 
  • Havoc wreaked on a nonprofit's credibility and sustainability. Stakeholders may lose confidence in its volunteer leadership. Funding may decline while donors wait to see if the transition is successful. 

The Initiative

It doesn’t have to happen this way. Best practices on executive succession and deepening the staff bench already exist. The TransitionGuides and CompassPoint models are thorough and holistic in their approach. They can help nonprofits use transitions as opportunities to step back and look at the bigger picture and at the kind of leadership needed for the future of the organization and the community. 

The Center's multi-year, statewide Initiative helped nonprofit CEOs and boards plan and implement effective executive successions and deepen the staff bench for future leaders. Activities included: 

  • Statewide survey of NC nonprofit executive directors/CEOs and the subsequent publication of Countdown to the Inevitable: North Carolina Nonprofit CEOs in Transition
  • Gathering and disseminating practical, high-quality tools that board and staff leaders can use now; 
  • "Executive Succession: It's Inevitable" workshops and other training for board and staff leaders on best practices on these issues; and 
  • Support of a learning group of carefully selected NC consultants to conduct training and to help nonprofits (one-on-one and in small clusters) to navigate successful transitions. 

For more information, contact us