It's All About Succession Planning: A Preview of Daring to Lead 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

DTL Blogpost Engaging, inspiring, and informative.

As a sector-switcher, I don’t represent the target audience for “Daring to Lead 2011,” a presentation offered by Donors Forum in May, but I found myself riveted by the presentations and panel discussion. What could have been dry statistics was transformed into a compelling, and at times humorous, presentation by Jeanne Bell, CEO of Compass Point.

Daring to Lead explored findings from a major survey of executive directors from around the country. In a nutshell, it is all about succession planning. But from my perspective, the event provided some key insights into the nonprofit sector and strategies for my own career trajectory.

First, the idea that there is going to be a huge vacuum in the nonprofit sector created by retiring baby boomers is, according to Bell, a false alarm. The data show that there are plenty of upper-level managers itching to become executive directors, and that only 34% of executives are 57 or older. Tom Adams (President of Transition Guides), who also gave a fascinating presentation, said we can expect the recent 10-12% turnover rate among executive directors to remain steady.

So the sector does not suffer from a lack of people, but a lack of transition planning. While this may be a little disappointing to job-hunters (like me) that were hoping for that job vacuum to open up, all is not lost. I learned that finding a mentor is a key step I can take right now. Moreover, when I begin interviewing for management positions, I know to be on the lookout for a few things:

  • Do the board and executive director relate as trusted partners?
  • Does the organization have a written succession plan and a clear organizational plan?
  • Do executive level managers actively develop leaders in their organization?
  • Will the organization create new job descriptions as employees grow and develop?
  • Does the board support and develop executive leadership?

An effective board and an organization committed to leadership development are important not only to succession planning, but also to career planning for up-and-coming nonprofit leaders.

~Mary Penn, Communications and Development Volunteer