Succession Planning Challenges for Non-Profits

Succession Planning for High-Burnout Industries

I had the pleasure of delivering our Succession Planning Launch Series to a very impressive group of leaders at a non-profit community group last week. The most interesting thing about delivering the Launch Series is working with unique organizations, each with specific challenges. Some of the challenges they have may be familiar to you regardless of the type of organization you work in.

High Burnout Rate

It is inspiring to work with a group so dedicated to their mission. However, that dedication can only carry employees so far. The demands both personally and professionally take a toll on even the most dedicated. This results in a high burnout rate. The World Health Organization recently classified burnout an occupational phenomenon that can negatively impact health and well-being. What this means for the organization is a natural – and accelerated – churn in talent that creates challenges for an already overworked labor force.

Calculate a baseline for average time top talent stays with your organization. Use this data to inform your succession plans (as opposed to expected retirement dates) so that you are prepared for turnover. It is always important to be proactive with succession planning, but in high-burnout industries, we suggest being extra cautious when estimating needs so you aren’t caught with an unexpected vacancy you can’t fill.

You can use your succession plan to intentionally develop people at a more rapid pace, knowing that your talent will likely only stay for a short time. This means giving people more opportunities to develop early in their careers. Try your best to match growth opportunities to their interests and ambitions. Further, you can use development opportunities as a tool to better distribute responsibilities and workloads as much as possible.

Difficulty Attracting Top Talent

Salaries in the non-profit world are obviously not proportionate to the demands and responsibilities required; my client’s salary scales were even low when compared to their non-profit peers. So, why would anyone take less to do more?

Drive Home the Mission

While it won’t work for everyone, people value the opportunity to do something meaningful. Understand why you get excited about going to work and communicate that to potential employees. For not-for-profits, highlight the cause your company stands for, and the positive impact they could have working for your organization. 

Sell Opportunity

One of the young leaders I worked with had been in her role for just 4 months and was already managing a large number of partners, employees, volunteers, and clients. The amount of different experiences that she will accumulate in the next few years in the role should make her very marketable in any future position she decides to pursue. You’re aware that most new employees will not stay with your company for their entire career, so sell your company by highlighting your opportunities to provide growth, autonomy, and responsibility.

Leverage Your Network

Everyone on my client’s leadership team had some prior connection (and exposure to the mission) to the organization before they took the role. It is likely going to be difficult to attract talent – even using the above selling features – to anyone without knowledge of what you do.  With this in mind recruit from your partners, funders, and volunteers. By narrowing your target audience to those who are already aware of your company’s values and goals, you can get more bang for your recruitment buck. It also increases the likelihood that you find someone who will fit with your company’s mission.

Lack of Budget for Development

Spending $5,000 on a weekend leadership training session is likely not in the budget for many non-profits.  However, I actually see this as an advantage as it forces us to rely more on on-the-job development opportunities; which by the way are more impactful anyway.

As we’ve already discussed earlier, resources and staffing are always a challenge at non-profits. This presents a tremendous opportunity for employee development. Having the same go-to employees for everything is unsustainable and leads to the burnout we discussed. 

Taking an intentional approach to leverage challenges into development opportunities for staff is a great way to develop on a budget and at the same time take pressure off your top employees by distributing projects. 

The above are just a few of the challenges that we see with non-profits we work with; and likely many for profit companies as well.  However, having a mature Succession Process in place can help organizations be intentional about how they address the challenges and mitigate the impact on their mission. 

How SIGMA Can Help

At SIGMA, we want to help your company be more effective and proactive with a good succession plan. Our Launch Series will deliver your company a personalized succession plan in just 30 DAYS with less than 8 hours of time from your senior leadership team. For more information on our Succession ProcessLaunch Series, or Succession Planning solutionscontact us and learn more about how we can help your organization plan for the future.

About the Author

Brittney Anderson, Ph.D.

Senior Consultant & Executive Coach

Brittney is a member of our coaching and consulting team. She brings her expertise in evidence-based practice to provide companies with leadership solutions that meet their needs. Primarily, Brittney helps her clients prepare for their future with succession planning and comprehensive leadership development programs. As an executive coach, she helps leaders hone their skills using a process-based approach to development.