Capacity Building (Part 4): How to Develop a Viable Succession Plan for Your Organization

A sapling emerges from the soil

Peter Gamache
Peter Gamache, PhD
Jackie Griffin
Jackie Griffin, Turnaround Life, Inc.

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. and Jackie Griffin, Turnaround Life, Inc.

This is the fourth in a multi-part series from Turnaround Life, Inc. on the issues nonprofits face in building capacity. You can read the first two parts here: Part I | Part II | Part III.


Whenever a nonprofit loses a vital member of the team, such as an executive or a board member, it can be tough for the organization to balance existing operations while navigating the new transition.

All parts of the organization, from day-to-day operations, programming, planning and fundraising needs to continue full speed, but with the key member missing, smaller teams in particular may find themselves spread thin. However, if your nonprofit has a succession plan, then the transition can be handled much more smoothly. In this, the fourth article in a series on capacity building, we look at the all-important role succession planning will have on the growth and stability of your organization.

The Importance of Having a Succession Plan Beforehand

All nonprofit organizations need to have a viable succession plan prepared before a key member departs. By having a plan in advance, your organization will be ready for this inevitable occurrence.

Before we get into explaining how these plans are developed, it is worth noting that a succession plan is a strategic document that describes how to handle the transition of a key member leaving, both before and during this event. This plan cannot be created successfully without all key members having the same vision for the nonprofit beforehand.

The Process of Developing a Succession Plan

We have developed a checklist of everything you need to do when you start preparing your organization’s succession plan:

1. Start by determining which vacancies your succession plan needs to address.

Each nonprofit has several key members, and losing any of them will be a tumultuous event. That’s why the succession plan needs to cover all possible vacancies. The plan should address the departure of the executive director, each high-level staff role, and board members.

Additionally, it’s necessary to cover both types of departures: an unexpected and a planned exit. As each requires a different plan

2. Include a process of internal leadership cultivation.

Whenever a person leaves an organization, it’s always hard to get the replacement to learn how to perform their duties in the same or similarly successful manner. For that reason, most nonprofits opt for recruiting within the organization by promoting another staff member.

However, that entails the nonprofit having a prepared plan for their identification, interviews, and training. By including the process within the succession plan, you’ll make sure that this will be handled quickly and successfully.

3. Include the process for external search.

Some roles cannot be fulfilled by an existing member, which is why your succession plan also needs to include the process of identifying a suitable candidate – i.e., finding external talent.

With planned departures, it’s much easier as the existing member will help the organization find a suitable replacement, but with unplanned departures, you’ll have to find an interim leader who will occupy the role, while the team actively searches for the right candidate.

4. Prepare a plan for how the new member can transition into their role.

The remaining part of the plan should always include an outline for the onboarding process – or the process of training the new member and introducing them to their role.

The process should take into account the exact training plan and how long it will take, along with the planned tracking of their acclimation.

By following these steps your organization will have a much easier time preparing the succession plan and eventually successfully handling all transitions.

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.


Peter Gamache, PhD, is a research, development, and evaluation specialist for health services  organizations, private foundations, and federally-funded public service organizations. His current research interests include disparities in health and mental health, integrated care, program fidelity, and program outcomes. He advocates for a collective understanding of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and culture to prevent and address marginalization of people living with disease, illness, injury, and disability.

Jackie Griffin serves as the development director, systems analyst, and director of evaluation for Turnaround Life, Inc. She has more than 26 years of experience dealing with nonprofit management, overseeing operations, grant development, grant management, capacity building evaluation, and performance assessment. Ms. Griffin manages the overall operations and resources of the company and works to enhance and sustain customer relationships and capacity building with stakeholders. She has worked to secure more than $69 million in government grants and expanding systems of care and behavioral health treatment in Florida, Mississippi, New Orleans, Maine and Virginia. Of that total, $22 million was awarded in the past three years in partnership with Turnaround Life and Turnar ound Achievement Network, LLC.  Ms. Griffin is a Certified Recovery Coach, and the former vice president of development of Operation PAR, Inc., and executive director of the LiveFree! Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Pinellas County. She earned her master’s with a concentration in nonprofit management and master’s  in Organizational Management and Leadership from Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Tampa Bay campus. Ms. Griffin has taught graduate and undergraduate students as an adjunct faculty member for Springfield College Tampa Bay campus and currently serves as the president of its Community Advisory Board. Ms. Griffin founded Jackie Sue Griffin & Associates, LLC in 2013 to provide nonprofit organizations, health and human services and government agencies consulting expertise and technical assistance in fund development and philanthropy and capacity building. 

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