Succession Planning: The Ongoing Continuous Process

By John Pearson

Note: This is the fifth of 11 blogs featuring practical wisdom from the new ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 4: Succession Planning. Free to ECFA members, you can download the resource and video by clicking here.

What committee or task force owns short-term vs. long-term succession planning?

Principle No. 5: Delegate Succession Planning to the Appropriate Committee lists three tips so you’ll keep succession planning on your year-round agenda.

Tip No. 1: There is a substantial difference between executive transition and succession planning. As Nancy Axelrod notes in her very helpful resource, Chief Executive Succession Planning, the first is “an intermittent event that is time-line driven,” while the latter is “an ongoing continuous process that boards (with the help of their chief executive) implement.”

Tip No. 2: Assign succession planning to the committee or task force that fits your board culture. One size doesn’t fit all—but consider what committee will have high competence in discerning your on-going process, but can also spring into action when an executive transition occurs (by design or default).

And this reminder: emergency transitions are a very bad time to begin learning how to spiritually discern God’s voice. Build some spiritual discernment exercisesspan style="background-color:white"> into your board work now—not when the crisis hits.

Tip No. 3: Provide your committee or task force with resource materials on succession planning. Four books are listed in the materials. Order all four and delegate your reading:

Stewards of a Sacred Trust: CEO Selection, Transition and Development for Boards of Christ-centered Organizations, by David L. McKenna (ECFAPress)
Chief Executive Succession Planning: Essential Guidance for Boards and CEOs, by Nancy R. Axelrod (BoardSource)
Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem (Harvard Business Review Press)
NEXT: Pastoral Succession That Works, by William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird (Baker Books)

Principle No. 5 includes “Five Critical Next Steps” for your board to address, including: “If outside help or counsel is needed (a volunteer, a board coach, or consultant, for example), does the committee have the authority to retain necessary assistance? (What is the budget?)

Check it out here:

DOWNLOAD: ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 4: Succession Planning – 11 Principles for Successful Successions: “Every CEO is an Interim CEO.” The toolbox includes
Read-and-Engage Viewing Guide (20 pages) – photocopy for board members
Facilitator Guide (10 pages)
• 4 short videos (4-5 minutes each)
• Additional resources and succession planning tools

BOARD DISCUSSION: "Are there appropriate board-approved succession policies to guide the work of the Succession Planning Task Force?"

MORE RESOURCES: Follow the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Click here.


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.