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Creating an Emergency Succession Plan

Ensuring the sustainability of your organization is dependent upon its preparedness for the unforeseen. Agencies should not only be prepared for external factors such as natural disasters but also should be prepared for personnel emergencies, such as the sudden illness or resignation of the executive director.  Plans can be made to make an unexpected transition smoother and ensure the agency maintains services in a crisis.

First review the executive director job description and consider the aspects that need to be prioritized and then decide how the priorities will be distributed among the staff or board. This will help you create an outline for the succession plan.

Create a plan that addresses these 3 scenarios:

  1. Succession Plan in Event of a Temporary, Unplanned Absence: Short Term
  2. Succession Plan in Event of a Temporary, Unplanned Absence: Long Term
  3. Succession Plan in Event of a Permanent Change in Executive Director

Address how the transition or vacancy should be communicated to internal staff and external stakeholders/funders.

Create a guidebook that has the following items accessible to an interim director or board:

  • Financial Information
    • Employer Identification Number (EIN)
    • Current and previous Form 990s
    • Current and previous audited financial statements
    • Financial Statements
    • Bookkeeper
    • State or District Sales­ Tax Exemption Certificate
    • Blank Checks
    • Computer passwords
    • Donor Records
    • Vendor Records
    • Auditor
    • Bank information
    • Check signers
    • Investments
    • Payroll
  • Human Resources
  • Important passwords
  • Facilities Information
  • Insurance Information
    • Location of policies (general liability / Directors and Officers insurance)
    • Benefits broker / contacts

It is helpful to create a financial calendar that includes due dates for payments, grant reports, and other important dates. This is a good place to list monthly, quarterly, and yearly obligations including audit and tax timelines, invoicing and payroll. Make sure it is clear to a new person when your fiscal year begins and ends.

Critical Questions:

  • Where is our organization's money?  Do we have lines of credit?  Who is authorized on all of these accounts?
  • Who will approve expenses and sign checks?
  • Who will ensure compliance with contracts and grants?
  • Who will ensure the organization is in good financial health?  (ensure checks and balances are maintained, oversee audit, etc.)
  • Who will supervise personnel?
  • Is there anything about this transition that will threaten the organization’s funding or future work?  How can we address that?
  • Who will communicate with our membership and key constituents about this transition?  What are our talking points?
  • Who is responsible for media contacts or public appearances during the transition?
  • Who from the board will supervise the staff leadership during the transition?
  • If staff have taken on additional responsibilities, how are they being compensated?

Create a document that contains the answers to these questions that can be given to an interim director or board in the case of emergency vacancy.

Emergency Succession Plan Templates:

Additional resources:

Reviewed: March 15th, 2017