If you left your organization, would it survive? Recently, I asked the CEO of a small, provincial organization this question and his quick and frank reply was “probably not.”
The future of too many non-profits rests in the hands of one or two people. When they leave the organization, it may falter or even fail. Often agencies that divvy the tasks among board members and volunteers, or those with a single staff member, are unable to pick up the pieces when a crucial person leaves.
Even organizations with more robust staffing models often rely on far too much knowledge that is stored in the brains of one or two people. Sometimes what is lost appears trivial, until your agency realizes that it cannot update its social media or webpage because the person with the passwords left. Sometimes the lost information is very serious, when the person who understood the agency’s legal obligations under the appropriate corporation’s act leaves and no one knows what is required or when. In some instances, programming is lost or promised reports to key funders are missed.
The very structure of a non-profit organization can often delay replacing the lead staff person. The board must figure out how to post for the position, how to receive applications, and then devise a process to interview suitable candidates. Because these board members work elsewhere and usually have busy lives, they are often unaware of the significance of tasks that are not being managed on a day to day basis. It is unfortunate when a new staff member is hired after months of vacancy and finds that the organization has almost disappeared from the minds of its stakeholders.
Having a simple but effective succession plan is vital to the future of your organization. Your clients are depending on you to continue to deliver what it promises. Donors are looking to see a social return on their investment. Boards should consider who in the organization is vital for day to day operations and how they will manage should that person (or those people) suddenly not be available to work.
A succession plan can be as simple as a list of important dates and activities and a description of where important records are stored. It can also be very complicated with a list of tasks that are performed and a description of how they are done. Agencies should start with the former. The board of directors should look at the plan at least annually so that they can find it when needed.
Most of us plan to have a long transition period, however life sometimes does not cooperate. If you have invested a significant amount of time and energy in creating something, are you prepared to see it crumble? If not, it is your obligation to create a list of important information and to ensure that others know where to find it.
If you are on a board, you have a fiduciary obligation to the corporation. When a significant organizer moves on, you must find a way to temporarily or permanently ensure that the agency continues to deliver on its commitments. Delay is not an option.
Sandra Dunham is the sole-proprietor of Streamline New Perspective Solutions
Streamline New Perspective Solutions offers management consulting services for non-profit organizations. Please visit www.streamlinenps.ca