What is Succession Planning and Why is it Important for Your NGO?

Dr Saumya Arora About Dr Saumya Arora

Dr. Saumya Arora is a development professional with cross-disciplinary experience in project management, resource mobilization, donor relationship management, community mobilization and project execution at the field level. She is currently working towards building fundraising and resource mobilization capacity of community-based organizations, apart from developing functional linkages with donors across the world.


Non-profits have so much to worry about these days, like finding funds, acquiring and retaining donors, core work, projects and activities. Being occupied with so many things at once does not let the non-profit organizations ‘think’ like an organization sometimes. People working at non-profits end up feeling that they have much more to look for outside the organization, rather than inside it. Management pioneers have stressed on the need to develop strategic thinking, developing and nurturing talent within the organizations to make them successful in the long run.

Effective organizations must develop and implement organizational strategic plans, one of which is succession planning. Succession planning means a deliberate process to identify, recognize and nurture a cadre of second-line leaders, which has talented pool of people within the organization to take on the lead as and when needed. Just like Kings in ancient times used to identify and nurture their successors to take up the throne after them, it is in the best interest of the organization’s sustainability to plan succession of the leadership and other roles also. Today, not many organizations put enough thought to plan succession, maybe because it is not a very happy thing to think about leaving and handing over responsibilities, maybe it is ego that stops people at leadership positions, or maybe it is simply disbelief in the organizational human resource that prevents leaders to pass on the baton.

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For non-profits also, succession planning is very important because of following reasons:

  1. In case of stepping down of the leader, all the good work done by the nonprofit might be forgotten with the exit of the ‘face’ of the organization. To maintain the reputation of the organization, leadership continuity is important.
  2. Although there may be advantages and disadvantages of both, succession within the organization and recruiting from outside, there is merit in preparing second-line leaders in case of last minute changes in the management or leadership.
  3. In an era of dynamic environments the NGOs face today, strategic thinking is necessary and so is succession planning. It must be built in the process to ensure efficiencies and standard processes.
  4. Developing and nurturing second-line leaders will bring in sustainability in the organization. It will ensure that the vision, mission and objectives are carried out with the same rigor and effectiveness as they were with present leadership.
  5. It will prevent any systemic inefficiencies that might arise due to any last minute changes of management
  6. It is important to note here in case of NGOs that it pleases donors also, especially if they are corporate donors, as they appreciate the accountability, strategic planning and the processes you would demonstrate if you have inbuilt succession planning within the organizational processes.
  7. In addition, if you nurture the in-house talent, there will be increased sense of responsibility within the staff, which would lead to more loyal and more talented pool of people. It will enhance productivity at workplace and will build a synergistic work environment, which is good for the entire organization.

What your organization needs to do to prepare this talent pool:

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  • Identify talent within the organization
  • Allow direct access to the leadership/ management, which will expose the young talent to bring out their best and give an opportunity to the management also to identify the best lot
  • Shift responsibilities- allow the cadre to shift from one domain to another, or one project to another, to expose them to more learning opportunities and giving them a chance to hone their talent, no matter where they pass or fail.
  • Ensure comprehensive human resource planning within the organization
  • Encourage long-term and strategic thinking by discussions, meetings, and allow everyone to contribute to these discussions

It might seem like a herculean task, but if the end result is an effective, efficient, sustainable and dynamic organization, the investment is worth it.

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