Here are some best practices for the exiting leader. If that’s you, these best practices will guide you to a peaceful transition. If you’re part of the organization being left, use these as a guide to help the exiting person leave well and feel free to download our sample transition checklist here.
Could your organization hire and train your replacement within two weeks? Probably not. Leadership positions usually don’t follow the custom of providing only two weeks notice. Recruiting a new leader often takes months. If you’ve been offered a new position, resist the urge to run. Instead, invest in fostering a positive relationship with the organization you’re leaving and set it up for success. This one move could pay dividends in the long run when it comes to a positive employment reference and networking.
If you’re not sure how much time to provide, consider these conservative timelines:
As you can see, providing 3-4 months of notice is customary and sometimes necessary for a successful nonprofit leadership transition. Of course, a long notice period isn’t always possible. In that case, use the practices below to ensure that you’re leaving the organization equipped to embrace a new leader.
Ambiguity or a lack of transparency can leave teams, donors, and stakeholders nervous. When there is a transfer of nonprofit leaders, it is critical that the board of directors, team, and the person exiting the organization are all communicating the same message. Not only will this present continuity and stability, but it will also curb gossip and false information. Start by working on internal messaging and move outwardly toward the public relations messages.
Here is a short list to help guide your steps:
Communication will foster questions, so it’s important that relevant details are agreed upon ahead of sharing the news. Details like the timeline for the transition and any interim changes or responsibility shifts can help portray stability and ease any stress or apprehension felt as a result of the transition. Plus, you probably want to own your story. Work with the organization to make sure your exit is being portrayed in the best light.
Don’t underestimate the power of a well-organized manual or instruction binder! In times of nonprofit leadership transition and onboarding, the in-person training can often be rushed or stressful. Having documentation available for a new leader can often be as effective of a training tool as in-person guidance.
Consider using tools like Vimeo or Loom to do on-screen recordings for practical tasks and instructions. A Google doc or Trello board can be great for organizing project-based work or listing duties. Best of all? Each of these solutions is free for nonprofits.
If you’re the person leaving an organization, don’t leave this task for your final days. Start immediately! There are things you do each week that you will not recall in your final hours. Instead, immediately after you put your notice in, begin documenting what you do daily and weekly. This ensures nothing is left uncommunicated.
The convenience of using programs like LastPass and other password recall programs is apparent as soon as someone leaves your organization. Taking the time to create a secure documented list of all logins, passwords and URLs provides great convenience for all. This includes the person leaving since they won’t be texted or emailed for a password every few days. Also, be sure to transfer any licenses tied to you as an individual in the organization. Adobe, Microsoft, and other common platforms use user-specific licensing that may need to be reassigned.
While it may not seem like email warrants its own section, it’s often the most contented and controversial element of a leadership transition. A clean sweep of all past messages, a passive-aggressive out-of-office notification, or the refusal to give up rights are all common issues. An employee’s email is an assignment of responsibility, access, and technology from the organization. Ultimately, the rights to that account belong to the organization and should only be used for its benefit.
Ideally, all organizations would have a clearly documented and communicated technology policy that includes this information. If not, err on doing what is best for the organization, and for you: let it go. Move on in a way that gives you clear separation and equips those you leave behind to have the communication and context that are often only found in an email chain.
No matter what is drawing you away from the organization you’re leading, at one time, you probably felt pretty passionate about the cause. Remember that sentiment as you prepare to exit. Do your best to leave the position in the way you’d hope someone would leave it to you. After all, there is a decent chance that someday you’ll be on the other end of the nonprofit leadership transition scenario if you haven’t been there already.