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Board Member Succession: Where to Start

Your board runs like the proverbial well-oiled machine… at least today. But what happens when one or more key member terms are up? If you do not have a plan for succession on your board, you could run into trouble when someone is ready to move on. Board member succession planning ensures that you know which members are ready to move into key positions, that you track beginning and end of service dates, and that new members can be seamlessly integrated into your board.

nonprofit board member succession planning guide

Board Member Succession Planning Tips

You can’t plan for succession if you have no idea where you stand. Therefore, the first priority for board member succession planning is to track terms for each member. You should have an easy-reference list of each member’s term length, their start and exit dates, and the current role they play. In addition to listing these important details by member, you should also have a list by year. You need to know who will be leaving, and what roles you’ll need to fill for each year to come. When you know what is coming, you will be better able to prepare and will have more options. When you discover an opening that has to be filled at the last minute, you can end up scrambling for new members and potentially make an error.

Track Important Openings

In addition to transitions in and out of service, you should also be aware of key board positions and responsibilities. If you are losing a board member due to the end of their term, you may also be losing a key officer, committee leader, or press liaison. Know not only the person that is moving on, but the important roles they fill. Someone will need to take over, so you should know what responsibilities you’ll need to fill in the coming year. It’s a good idea to have the outgoing person familiarize someone else on the board or an advisory board on their unique knowledge. The last thing you want is to have a silo of information with one person who is leaving.

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Create Detailed Descriptions

Your board members are not employees, but having a description of the duties fulfilled by officers and key committee leaders makes it easier to select replacements when it is time for a current member to step down. Each important role should have a job description, a detailed list of responsibilities, and an accurate overview of the time investment needed. These details will help you select the right members for each role and let those members accurately assess their own interests and availability, too.

Make Board Member Succession Decisions Early

Whether you are recruiting a new member to fill a soon-to-be-vacated role or you have a coming gap in your leadership, make the decision for the successor early. If an existing board member is moving into a new role, you can begin to ease them into the position and the existing leadership can help them get acclimated. If you are recruiting someone new, starting well in advance gives you the most options and ensures you truly have time to select the right person to join your team.

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The time to think about board member succession is now – ideally, long before you have any actual vacancies or gaps in your leadership. When you prepare well in advance, you ensure you have time to approach the best new talent, and that your own members have time to prepare for their new roles. If you do not have a good idea of when your board member’s terms are up, what roles you need to fill and who you might need to recruit, you should pay prompt attention to these details to ensure your work can proceed uninterrupted.


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