Non profit organizations (NPOs) are constantly looking for new talent to fill leadership roles that will ensure their ongoing viability and success. Leadership development and succession planning have become important issues being addressed by NPOs. There is competition for experienced and highly skilled leaders. The challenge for NPOs is to address the need for leadership through the development and implementation of well-crafted programs for leadership development, succession planning, and periodic evaluation of the leadership team tied to governance review.
The regulation of NPOs and charities has become more complex over time. Laws and regulations control how NPOs are to be organized, and mandatory requirements must be adhered to in order to maintain corporate and, if applicable, charitable status. It is important that the leadership (officers and directors) together with the professional staff understand and comply fully with these obligations.
Leadership development programs require careful planning and organization. A key component is the orientation of leaders to fully understand the obligations and their role in ensuring that the NPO is in full compliance.
Leadership development typically entails two approaches: (1) developing leadership from within the volunteer corps of the NPO through training, education and appointing or electing volunteers to various positions within the organization, and (2) recruiting new leaders to take on specific roles. One way to organize and operate a leadership development program is for the Board to appoint a committee or task force charged with the responsibility to develop the curriculum and run the program in collaboration with the professional staff and/or retaining external experts to advise and assist in the program. Program length is dependent on the size of the NPO and the specific needs in the leadership framework. There are many models for leadership programs that can be customized to fit the NPO’s needs.
Recruiting new leaders can be done through internal means or by retaining an external executive recruitment firm to assist in identifying and attracting candidates. External firms are generally not suitable for small NPOs with limited resources. For these NPOs, they need to develop their own in house capacity to design a recruitment program. Such programs can be a combination of strategic networking and marketing of the NPO and its desire for new leaders. In some cases, an outside consultant can assist with the design and implementation for reasonable fees.
Succession planning is critical to a NPO’s future. Organizations that struggle with leadership success often find that they do not have experienced and suitable leaders ready to assume leadership roles at the time of transition. This can lead to serious concerns and frustrations for both outgoing leaders and staff. Succession planning requires early identification of potential leaders and providing them with the opportunities to advance through various roles (committee members and chairs), officers and other senior roles in a methodical way such that leaders are ready, able and willing to assume senior positions (Chair or President and other roles) at the appropriate time.
A critical element in succession planning and identifying potential leaders is annual review of the current leaders. This requires a process that is open, transparent and objective based on criteria agreed to by the Board. The Nominating Committee (or other committee delegated for this task) would be responsible for establishing the criteria for review, the process to be undertaken and reporting to the Board the results of the evaluation. Based on the evaluation report, the Nominating Committee will be in a stronger position to comfortably recommend candidates to assume positions.
Further information on this subject is available at several leadership sites online. As well, members of the Drache Aptowitzer firm can assist with leadership development and succession planning.