Executive Succession and Deepening the Bench

Statewide Initiative on
Executive Succession and Deepening the Bench

The Issue: A crisis is looming for nonprofits. Within the next five years, North Carolina's nonprofit sector will see nearly 60% of its executive directors/CEOs leave their positions. Many are retiring baby boomers. Others are leaving for better, less stressful opportunities elsewhere. Still others are departing suddenly, leaving their organizations with no one at the helm. Complicating the situation is poor handling of many CEO transitions. All of this is happening in communities across North Carolina from Murphy to Manteo.

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 Overall Approach: But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Best practices on executive succession and deepening the staff bench already exist and don’t need to be recreated. 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 North Carolina Center has launched a five-year, statewide Initiative to help nonprofit CEOs and boards plan and implement effective executive successions and deepen the staff bench for future leaders.

Our current activities include:

  • Countdown to the Inevitable: North Carolina Nonprofit CEOs in Transition, a new report by the Center, based on responses to a confidential, online statewide survey of executive directors/CEOs to learn about their career paths, plans for their own executive transitions, and their jobs and boards of directors;
  • Gathering and dissemination of practical, high-quality tools that board and staff leaders can use now;
  • 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.

Questions and Ideas? The contact for this project is Bridgette Burge, Director of Programs, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits.