By Mark D. Burkhardt, Director for Outdoor Ministry, ELCA
One of the hottest topics being discussed in non-profit organizations these days is succession planning, especially for the position of executive director. One year ago, at the Executive Leadership Event hosted by Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries (NLOM), Executive Director Roger Sasse, shared his own story of how he is preparing his organization for his upcoming retirement. In fact, Roger and the NLOM board have they have been working through a very deliberate process for the past several years. One of the things that Roger shared was the important work they have done to plan for an emergency involving the executive director. The basic question to consider is this: What would your board do if you woke up tomorrow morning to learn that your executive director could no longer function due to an untimely accident, illness or death? Do you have a plan for emergency succession? Like it or not, the chances are very high that your executive director has a significant amount of information about your outdoor ministry stored in his or her brain that has never been written down. So, there are a few simple steps that your board might want to consider when planning for emergency succession.
First, work with your executive director to write down or record as much of that special information as possible. Among other things this might include valuable site, financial or key contact and donor information. It might also include information about annual time lines for planning and promotion. Also, make sure that the board and staff have a way to access key information in the event of an emergency. In other words, do not store the information in a password protected computer controlled only by the executive director.
Second, work with your executive director to designate a staff or board leader (or a team of leaders) in advance who could provide emergency leadership for your organization. Create a job description outlining basic responsibilities, lines of accountability and limits of authority. Keep the person or team informed on a regular basis.
Third, share the emergency plan with the entire board and staff so that everyone in the organization knows about the plan in advance. This will help to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that may already be high in the event of a real emergency.
Planning for a leadership emergency is a task that every outdoor ministry board should do as part of its legal duty of care. This is not a task that needs to take an inordinate amount of time. Nor is it a task to be taken lightly. Hopefully, you will never need to use an emergency succession plan, but if you do it will provide your board, staff and constituency with some much-needed peace of mind at a very difficult time.
For more information about the topic of succession planning go to www.boardsource.com and look for an excellent print resource entitled, Chief Executive Succession Planning: The Board's Role in Securing Your Organization's Future