Think your board chair succession is secure? Think again.

New icon roundMy colleagues and I are still digesting the lessons to be learned from the Voices of Board Chairs research. (I served on the research team, a subgroup of the Governance Affinity Group of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management.)

One area our research team wanted to learn more about was board chair succession.

Very interestingly, what we heard from these chairs was:

  • Fewer than half of our chairs had previously held the role of vice chair, a position commonly accepted in our sector as the primary precursor to the board chair.

“The board chair and vice chairs just quit one day and I was left.”

“.. I was a member of the Executive Committee when the Vice Chair, who was to take over as Chair in three months, had to resign from the board for a significant family health situation.”

  • 16% of our chairs had been on the board of their nonprofit for less than a year, and just over half for three years or less.  

“I had been on the board for 9 months. Because of my profession, and also my dedication to the group, I was a natural choice to become chair… but it was really early…”

“…all the members of the Board of Trustees, with one exception, indicated they were resigning. I was not on the board, I was a volunteer.”

” the board chair … needed to vacate the position for family reasons, and since I was vice-president of another nonprofit, I was asked to step in.”

My take-a-away from this:

Even well-crafted chair succession plans hit unexpected bumps in the road, such as health issues, new family or work responsibilities, or job relocations.

That left me thinking a lot about building a deep bench of potential leaders.

  • What would your board do differently if right from the start it considered every director a potential leader?
  • What would you do differently to nurture a big bench of future leaders rather than just one or two?
  • What do you do now? How is it working for you?

For more insights, I hope you’ll visit the Laramie Board Learning Project. Research colleague Debra Beck has been sharing her insights on the research through the lens of how board members learn.

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