Leadership Transition Barriers in Small Nonprofits - An Analysis of Board Engagement
Kramer, Peter Matthew
Board chairs of nonprofits agree that hiring an executive director is one of the most important things that boards of directors can do. Accordingly one would expect that boards would be prepared for executive director leadership transitions, whether planned or unplanned, recognizing that their responsibility to the organization demands a prepared approach to the transition. Yet the opposite regularly occurs. Boards are rarely prepared for transition, spend little to no time exploring the issue at the board level, and then profess surprise and gratitude that when a transition does occur, the nonprofit organization is able to fill the position quickly without loss of momentum. This research examined the barriers at the board level to leadership transition planning in nonprofits. Interviews conducted with board chairs suggested that a lack of training for board members on their roles and responsibilities, combined with a general reluctance to engage in what are perceived to be human resource planning issues, act to inhibit boards and board chairs from exploring leadership transition planning. Moreover, the selection of board members should focus not on just passion for the organization, but on the role of mission in furthering the long-term objectives of the nonprofit. When mission focus is heavily emphasized, board members better understand their contribution and are willing to engage in future leadership transition planning. Boards of directors and board chairs would be well-served by scheduling a regular review of the nonprofit's leadership plan and requirements and using that discussion as a mechanism for examination of the leadership transition plan. Research participants suggested that very act of having the conversation demystifies the discussion and emphasizes the importance boards should place on leadership selection and future needs. When boards engage in a regular review of leadership they are in fact promoting the long-term success of the organization that they serve.
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