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Succession Planning for Nonprofits


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The unexpected departure of a nonprofit’s leader can cause organizational chaos. A nonprofit may establish policies and procedures to guide leadership transitions—unplanned and planned—to prevent damage to the organization and its work.


Succession planning—putting in place policies and procedures to ensure smooth and orderly leadership transitions—helps nonprofits prevent organizational chaos and harm to programs and projects if crucial staff or officers depart unexpectedly. Succession plans may also detail the procedures for handling routine or expected leadership changes (e.g., a plan might call for the formation of a search committee to find a new executive director and specify the composition of the committee) and shape efforts to develop staff so that they are ready to step into leadership roles within an organization.

This guide provides links to guides, articles, and model succession plans to help organizations optimize their succession planning. See the Succession Planning library topic at for these and other resources.


These guides provide an in-depth look at the need for and strategies to implement effective succession planning in an organization.

Nonprofit Executive Succession-Planning Toolkit

Emergency Succession Planning

Building Leaderful Organizations: Succession Planning for Nonprofit

Staying Engaged, Stepping Up: Succession Planning and Executive Transition Management for Nonprofit Boards of Directors


These shorter articles outline key elements of succession planning and offer concise tips to establish or improve a succession plan.

“Succession Planning for Nonprofits—Managing Leadership Transitions”

“The Importance of Linking Leadership Succession, Strategy, and Governance”

“Blending Nonprofit Succession Planning and Executive Transition: A Successful Case”

“A Practical (and Possibly Proactive) Approach to Leadership Transitions”

“Nonprofit Succession Planning: It’s Not Just for the CEO”

“Avoid Transition Trauma with a CEO Succession Plan”

“The Board’s Role in Nonprofit Succession Planning”

Model Succession Plans

Organizations can use these model plans to craft or inform their succession plans and policies.

Model Succession Plan (CompassPoint Nonprofit Services)

Model Emergency Succession Plan (Third Sector New England)

Model Succession Plan Policy (Texas Council for the Arts)

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Featured Library Items

The first section contains extended explanations of three approaches to succession planning: strategic leader development, emergency succession planning, and departure-defined succession planning. The second looks closely at tough issues organizations may face when planning for succession. The last…
An emergency succession plan, or plan for contingencies, is developed and maintained to address circumstances related to an organization facing an unplanned event –most often the disability, death or sudden departure of key staff or board leadership. It provides needed stability and calm in a time …
This toolkit is a resource for nonprofit board of directors and executive leaders. It provides tools to effectively implement succession planning and overcome barriers. It includes an outline of key planning roles, readiness questions, an overview of the succession-planning process, and supplement…
Appropriate for most nonprofits, but particularly useful for small to mid-size agencies, this publication will provide you with a set of practical tools and resources to help you engage your leadership transition issues and prepare for one of the most important decisions your board will be required…
In this model, special emphasis is given to identifying the key leadership functions carried by the executive, identifying the agency managers best qualified to step into the executive role in an emergency, and prescribing the cross-training necessary to prepare the back-up managers to cover the le…
Organizations can modify this sample succession plan to fit their needs, or use it to inform the creation of their own succession plans.
Model succession plan that can be modified by nonprofits to fit their needs.
The unexpected departure of a nonprofit’s leader can cause organizational chaos. A nonprofit may establish policies and procedures to guide leadership transitions—unplanned and planned—to prevent damage to the organization and its work. (Print version of guide)


Nate Lotze compiled this guide.

The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association produced this guide with support from the William Penn Foundation, the Colcom Foundation, and the Community Conservation Partnerships Program, Environmental Stewardship Fund, under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation.


Nothing contained in this or any other document available at is intended to be relied upon as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. The material presented is generally provided in the context of Pennsylvania law and, depending on the subject, may have more or less applicability elsewhere. There is no guarantee that it is up to date or error free.