Helping Organizations Achieve Successful Leadership Transitions

By the Association of Small Foundations

January 1, 2009


Many organizations, large and small, avoid the topic of leadership transition. In smaller agencies, the weight and expense of supporting a secondary leadership role are deterrents. In larger organizations, executives may avoid the issue for fear of compromising their authority and becoming “lame ducks.” With a little planning, these events that are usually associated with uncertainty and worry can actually help an organization to grow. The time and leadership commitment required for succession planning tend to deter volunteer boards, and the suggestion of a transition may cause apprehension in funders. 

Executive transition management, or ETM, is a unique approach to reducing the risks and maximizing the potential of the active transition period. This brief highlights some of the concerns surrounding executive transitions and some of the ETM practices that can help overcome those concerns and make the experience one of growth.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaway

Most transitions are non-routine, following an organizational crisis or the departure of a founder

Studies from 2001 and again from 2006 suggest 75% of nonprofit executives plan to leave their jobs within five years, and less than a third of these executive had discussed succession planning with their boards. 70% of transitions are non-routine, occurring due to organizational crisis or the departure of a founder or visionary leader. The poorly managed transitions incur high costs to the organization and communities, and are often followed by extended periods of under-performance and, in extreme cases, organizational collapse.

Findings & Stats

Statements & Quotations