Every organization has the potential to go through a leadership change and emerge with organizational and financial strength. The transition provides a unique chance for the organization to manage change by establishing good leadership practices and engaging internal and external stakeholders while demonstrating an environment of resiliency.
Stakeholders are often overlooked during a leadership transition. Not surprisingly, many organizations suffer a significant decline in fundraising following a leadership change. Often, individual and institutional donors are left out of communications regarding the leadership change. They may have been cultivated by the departing leader and feel their strongest connection to the individual even more than the organization. Donors may respond to the leadership change with disappointment, uncertainty, and possible disengagement, if they are not included in the transition planning. With the impending exit of the leader, donors may react to the ending as a loss, as their loyalties were generated and encouraged by the departing leader.
Transition planning is a comprehensive strategy for the organization to manage leadership change; it is not limited to the recruitment of a successor. Once the leader has identified that he or she is planning to move on – regardless of whether it will be an immediate exit or a longer process – the transition plan should be established with the board and the executive management team. Planning for the transition is much more than the steps to assess the organization’s strengths, plan the search-and-hire and determine the optimal way to support the current leader’s leaving and the new leader’s on-boarding.
What could be more critical to a successful transition than the engagement of the organization’s stakeholders?
In our approach to transition planning, this is an ideal moment for the board leadership to work closely with the fundraising staff to actively steward the organization’s donors by:
- Informing key donors of the transition process and impending search to elicit concerns and recommendations (these conversations can also inform communications to the larger stakeholder community).
- Continuing the investment of both the individual and institutional donors in the vision of the organization to create a sense of comfort and optimism with the impending leadership change.
- Creating a plan to ensure donors have a deeper relationship with the organization’s fundraising staff and board leadership to allay fears about the transition and provide an ongoing point of contact until a new leader is on board.
Successful transitions include actively engaging donors in the vibrancy and resiliency of the organization.
Looking to both individual and institutional donors to contribute to (or help shape) the future vision of the organization contributes to the enduring engagement of the key stakeholders.