Nonprofit Succession Planning: Future Success Based on Creativity

By Gerald Meck, Affiliated Consultant, North Group Consultants

“The mark of a leader, the attribute that puts him in a position to show the way for others, is that he is better than most to point the way.” Robert Greenleaf, The Servant Leader.

Pointing the way for the future of United Disabilities Services (UDS) required the need to implement a succession plan. Max Dee, author of Leadership Is and Art, declared “Succession is one of the key responsibilities of a leader.” As the President/CEO of UDS  I made a strategic decision to implement a leadership succession plan in 2008 knowing that new leadership will be needed to successful  continue the mission of the organization. For 26 years, I experienced a great deal of satfaction from growing the organization from a small $200,000 nonprofit organization to a $25 million enterprise providing a network of 12 different services in 30 Commonwealth Counties. I was aware that if I did not make a conscious decision to implement a succession plan, I could overstay my time, making the transition difficult for both me and the organization.

In 2008, with the Boards blessing, a leadership succession plan was implemented and the organization’s Vice President/Chief Operating Officer (COO) was hired with the understanding that he would assume the President/CEO role by 2010.

Succession guiding principles were established including:

  • Roles between the COO and CEO were clearly identified along with the reporting structure
  • Responsibility changes and reporting needs were put in place to support the COO in his new position
  • I, as the CEO, played a significant and useful role within the organization throughout the leadership transition.

Effective January 1, 2010 the plan was completed and the COO became the President/CEO and my transition out of the company was complete.

The transfer of executive leadership at UDS was successful because:

  • As the President/CEO, I made a conscious decision to implement a succession plan.
  • As the President/CEO in partnership with the Board of Directors, I was involved in shaping the plan, creating the time frame and choosing my successor.
  • The establishment of succession guiding principles
  • Ongoing communication with employees about the succession planning process
  • As the President/CEO, I was willing to relinquish duties and authority.

In his book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” John C. Maxwell states, “A leader’s lasting value is measured by succession. Your succession is based in the legacy you want to leave.” The successful transition of leadership will assure the future success of UDS and my legacy will be fulfilled.

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