Image from

Heightened Executive Turnover

A nonprofit chief executive transition occurs almost weekly.

This phenomenon isn’t confined to Northeast Ohio; it’s a nationwide challenge. The growing departure of leaders has created a staffing crunch, intensifying the competition for executive talent – as highlighted in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

This challenge affects all nonprofit sectors. Approximately one-third of the American Alliance of Museum member organizations have had a CEO leave in the last two years, and more than twenty percent of the health and human services groups in Columbus, Ohio have lost their leaders, or will soon.


Staffing Talent Drain

Adding to the complexity, for-profit organizations are increasingly attracting nonprofit workers. Burnout, coupled with the allure of a better life beyond the nonprofit grind, has led to a significant talent drain.

Additionally, nonprofits fill fewer senior roles internally compared to businesses. Nonprofits promote from within for top leadership positions 50 percent less than for-profit organizations. By investing in succession planning, nonprofits empower future leaders within their staff rather than needing to search externally.

Succession planning involves the deliberate identification, development, and retention of internal talent to seamlessly fill leadership positions when they become vacant. By adopting this proactive approach, organizations can navigate leadership transitions with minimal disruption, ensuring a smooth transfer of responsibilities.


The Imperative for Succession Planning

Investing in succession planning equips nonprofits to:

  1. Maintain Organizational Stability: Succession planning prevents leadership vacuums, averting periods of uncertainty and instability within the organization.
  2. Preserve Institutional Knowledge: Facilitating the transfer of valuable institutional knowledge, succession planning ensures the preservation of an organization’s history, culture, and strategic insights.
  3. Mitigate the Impact on Programs and Services: A well-executed succession plan minimizes disruptions to ongoing programs and services, allowing nonprofits to continue their vital work seamlessly.
  4. Enhance Recruitment and Retention: Fostering a culture of professional development and career advancement attracts and retains talented individuals. This reduces reliance on external searches and mitigates the impact of rising executive salaries.


Succession Planning Ensures Sustainability

As the nonprofit sector grapples with heightened executive turnover and other staffing challenges, organizations must recognize both the challenges and opportunities this presents. Proactive and effective succession planning, focused on the development and retention of internal talent, ensures a robust pipeline of capable leaders. This approach strengthens nonprofits’ ability to fulfill their missions and create lasting positive change in their communities.

Succession planning is not merely a best practice; it is an indispensable strategy for navigating the turbulent waters of nonprofit leadership turnover and securing a sustainable future for organizations committed to making a difference.

BVU’s Nonprofit Pulse: Succession Planning

A monthly survey of Northeast Ohio nonprofit chief executives


BVU’s first Nonprofit Pulse Survey of nonprofit chief executives resulted in more than 100 responses – 54% noting that their organization DOES NOT have a succession plan in place. Additionally, many organizations that DO have a succession plan said that it was dated, not detailed, or missing key aspects.

Contact us to find out how we can help.

How BVU Helps Nonprofit Succession Planning

BVU will help you navigate staffing complications and issues to create a robust succession plan, ensuring your organization’s capacity to drive long-term impact.

Tricia Stevenson provides guidance and consulting to nonprofit boards and staff members in the areas of succession planning and executive search. Prior to joining BVU, Tricia spent 20 years working as a consultant and employee of the PolyOne Corporation where she was involved in their training, human resources, and IT functions. She holds an MBA from the Weatherhead School of Management and a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Villanova University. 

Tricia Stevenson

Tricia Stevenson

Director, Leadership Development