Giving Compass' Take:

• Jacob Mnookin, writing for Stanford Social Innovation Review, discusses the challenges and triumphs of succession planning at his organization. 

• How can donors best support organizations that are struggling with succession planning? 

• Learn about succession planning in family philanthropy. 

In August 2007, when I began writing the public charter school application for what would become Coney Island Prep, I’d never even heard of succession planning. I was 28, and the sum total of my professional experience included teaching high school English for three years as part of Teach for America (TFA). At the time, even if someone had explained it to me and suggested I get around to it at some point, part of me would have assumed I’d lead Coney Island Prep until I retired. It was my baby, my entire life, my passion and purpose.

A year later—with an approved application and some funding in hand—I brought on Lindsay Freeman as founding principal. Lindsay and I had met through TFA, and the two of us went about the business of opening a middle school in Brooklyn, New York. While she created a daily school schedule, ordered curriculum and books, and planned staff orientation, I put together a board of trustees, negotiated a lease for our first facility, designed uniforms, raised money, picked a payroll provider, and tried to repair a relationship with a local city councilman who told me the school would open over his dead body.

Succession planning didn’t make the list until years later, when we would determine independently that it was time to hand over the reins to other people, and face the unique challenge of successfully replacing both of us while keeping the organization we built moving ahead.

Five years later, we’d opened a high school and an elementary school, and were operating all three out of different locations. Each had its own principal and director of operations, and as our schools grew, our staffing model grew with it. Lindsay became our chief schools officer, coaching and managing the principals. We also hired a chief financial officer to help oversee our $21 million budget; a chief people officer to manage our human resources and recruitment functions; a chief operating officer, who managed the directors of operations; and a chief academic officer who oversaw our K-12 curriculum and assessment program. With a bigger staff, there were new challenges to figure out—and succession planning still didn’t make the list of priorities.

Read the full article about co-founder transitions by Jacob Mnookin at Stanford Social Innovation Review.