Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Succession Planning – an Important Part of Association Leadership

CSAE Ottawa-Gatineau’s February luncheon and presentation “Succession Planning – an Important
Part of Association Leadership” was generously hosted by the Hilton Lac-Leamy and sponsored by
the Chapter’s professional development partners, Ottawa Tourism and the Shaw Centre.

Succession planning is not an issue that many organizations address in any systematic way. Because most not-for-profit organizations have limited resources and deal with a variety of organizational challenges, thinking about who the next CEO might be or what would happen if the Director of Finance suddenly left is often not high on the priority list. However, not only do association leaders need to think about how they will continue to fulfill their mission if a key staff member left, they also need to address changing demographics and the realities of today’s workforce capacity.

Although the type and extent of planning will be different, organizations of all sizes need to have some sort of succession plan. With careful planning and preparation, organizations can prepare for a generational transfer of leadership as well as the ongoing changes that occur regularly when key employees leave an organization.

Three association leaders, Jody Ciufo, Executive Director, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, the national voice for the full spectrum of affordable housing issues, Ondina Love, CAE, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA) and Paul Melia, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), led by moderator Nancy Barrett, CAE, Association Management, Consulting & Evaluation Services (AMCES), shared how their organizations are dealing with the issue of succession planning.

The takeaways from this session are:
  • Small associations typically have to look externally for replacements should a key staff resource leave. It was also emphasized that providing existing staff with opportunities for development will help retain stars within the organization.
  • A succession plan policy is important and should be reviewed annually.
  • Boards may consider having an insurance policy for the CEO to fund the transition and executive search costs that would be incurred if she/he had to be replaced due to death.

Medium and large associations could deal with a sudden departure as follows:

  • Senior staff should be trained and prepared so that the CEO’s duties can be shared among them while a replacement is found.
  • If feasible, a Chief Operating Officer position could be established. The COO would understand all aspects of the organization’s operations and could step in in an interim capacity should the CEO leave. 
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at

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