Executive Transition Planning Series Part 2: Four Types of Transitions : Successful Nonprofits

Executive Transition Planning Series Part 2: Four Types of Transitions

by goldenburggroup

Executive Transition Planning Series Part 2: Four Types of Transitions

by goldenburggroup

by goldenburggroup

Sally has enjoyed a successful six-year tenure with her organization, but she’s ready to take on new challenges. Over coffee with her board chair, Sally shares that she is looking for a new position and anticipates leaving in the next three to six months. The board chair thanks Sally for her candor and for significant advanced notice that allows the organization to prepare for the transition.

This is a board’s dream – an executive who has decided to resign and even plans for her own departure without another job lined up. But it is also a day dream that rarely comes true.  Unless they are retiring, it is both unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that an executive will set a date to resign without having another job offer. After all, the chief executive’s job is also how they provide for themselves and their family.

When creating a succession plan, the board needs to prepare for the four types of transitions described below:

Short Term Absences: A short-term absence has definite beginning and ending dates, and the length typically ranges between one to six months.

Permanent Departure: A permanent departure – sometimes called a defined departure, is the resignation, termination, or retirement of the executive director.

Abrupt Departure:
In my world view, an abrupt departure is any exit with less than a month’s notice, though only having one month to prepare for the departure of your executive director is not a lot of time.

Planned Departure:
A planned departure is one with between one and nine months’ notice. As a general rule, I don’t suggest that an executive director announce their departure more than nine months in advance simply because chief executives do start to become lame ducks during the transition period. I know this from personal experience because I once gave ten months’ notice before leaving an executive director position. During my final few months, it was clear that the board, staff and funders were postponing big decisions until the next chief executive director started.


In drafting the departure section of your plan, your organization will have a lot of questions to consider, including:
  • Specifically, how does the executive ask for an extended absence?
    • To who?
    • What if they are unable to request a leave due to hospitalization?
  • What criteria will the committee or board use to determine whether to grant an extended absence?
    • How much time does the organization need to consider the request?
    • What is the maximum amount of time the organization will approve?
    • What is defined as an “emergency”?
    • What if the chief executive wants a sabbatical?
  • For planned departures, how much notice is the executive expected to give?
  • What committee will be activated when a leave is requested or notice is given?
  • How will communications be handled?
    • Who will inform the staff in each of the four possible departures?
    • Who will inform the media, funders, donors, and organizational partners?

In a future bonus break, we’ll talk about actually developing your interim plan to manage the period with an executive director. But the next post will be a good opportunity for us to discuss executive director contracts and the role they play in transition planning.

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