An unexpected change in leadership can cause great turmoil. Even a scheduled departure can be difficult and result in unexpected consequences. A well-thought-out succession plan can provide stability.

If your organization doesn’t have a succession plan, it would be wise to start working on one soon. Without a plan in place, you might have to make critical decisions when you’re in the throes of an emergency. Even if your current leadership is stable, that will change at some point. Also, it will take time to develop and articulate a comprehensive succession plan.

Here are some key issues to help frame your succession plan:

  • Who will be in charge if the executive director is suddenly no longer able to perform his or her duties (temporarily or permanently)?
  • How will other top staff people be deployed?
  • Are there detailed job descriptions for key positions so others can fill in as necessary?
  • Who will be the official spokesperson for the organization until a new director is named?
  • Is there a current job description for the executive director’s position (roles, responsibilities, etc.)? Should changes be made?
  • Who will be responsible for recruiting, interviewing, and selecting a new executive director?
  • Do you have materials (e.g., videos, press kits, etc.) that might help you “sell” the organization to outside candidates?
  • Have you compiled a succession readiness checklist?

These are very broad strokes. Your discussions will undoubtedly raise other important issues, such as salary and whether the job is “too big” for one person. Taking the first step in formulating a succession plan is generally the hardest part. However, doing nothing could end up being significantly more difficult.