A leadership succession plan is an essential source of guidance, and a commitment to organizational stability, when foundation transitions occur. Specifically, this written document identifies a course of action for when key leaders depart, whether planned or unplanned, permanent or temporary.

To illustrate, consider what happened to one of our members:

“Our foundation had succession planning thrust upon us. We had been talking about succession for some time, and then we were blindsided by illness and death. When you leave, you want the organization to go forward in the way you want. When you’re gone, you can’t influence that as much, so talk and plan for it now.”

Ultimately, the board is responsible for creating and implementing succession plans for leadership transitions. However, if the foundation has staff, the board should work in partnership with the executive director.

The following roles benefit from succession plans:

  • Board leader (founder, president, chair): If the foundation has bylaws, the bylaws typically include a basic set of procedures to follow. If the organization is a trust, the same basic procedures are often in the trust document. A succession plan should be consistent with the bylaws or trust document. Similarly, it should name interim decision makers and the processes they are to follow (whether a departure is temporary or permanent).
  • Board member: As with transitions by board leaders, a basic process for electing, removing, or accepting the resignation of a board member is likely found in the organization’s bylaws or trust document. In the succession plan, describe details on orientation, rotation, transfer of sensitive documents, term limits, and expectations for board service. Outlining a process to name interim leaders is usually less important.
  • Next generation: Family foundations have distinct dynamics at play, but next generation transitions are relevant for all sorts of organizations. While we sometimes use the term next gen to refer to a specific age range (18–35), oftentimes the next generation is in its forties, fifties, or sixties.
  • Top staff: Whether the foundation is hiring a top staff person for the first time, or replacing someone, aspects of this transition are distinct from other types of leadership succession.

Read the full article about foundation sucession planning at The Philanthropic Initiative.