April 26, 2021

Leadership Transitions: 3 Steps to Set Up New Leaders for Success

So, you and your development team are planning for the transition to a new President or Executive Director and you may be wondering,  "How should we proceed?" or, "How can we be proactive and take initiative?"

Proactivity can greatly reduce the stress of a transition in leadership. When your team takes the initiative to introduce your new leader to their role in development programming, you are setting up your organization for long-term success.

Your leadership transition initiative should begin with these 3 distinct steps:

1. Prepare a Background Report

In taking initiative regarding the leadership transition, your development team should first prepare a background report to share with your new leader. This 30,000-foot overview is designed to provide insight into how the department supports the organization. The background report will cover how the department functions, its goals and initiatives, achievements, and recent track record. Include visuals, such as graphs and tables, that summarize these analytics efficiently and effectively. Brevity is important, however. Try to keep this report to less than eight pages.

The search committee may wish to provide this report during the search process to final candidates. Otherwise, it is recommended that this information be provided to the new leader upon the announcement of the selection.

2. Introduce Stakeholders

Upon creating a cohesive background report, the next step in the transition process is to identify key stakeholders (people, organizations, and groups) the leader should meet. It is important to set up meetings between the incoming leader and these individuals and groups as soon as possible after the Leader assumes his/her new post.

It is recommended that your team split the stakeholder list into three tiers by priority:

  1. VIPs (your very best donors and volunteers)
  2. Mid-level constituencies
  3. Lower Priority targets

Organizing in this way will help to arrange the introductions by priority ranking. After separating the stakeholders into these three tiers, it will become easier to envision the process of acquainting your incoming Leader with your stakeholder pool.

3. Define the Leader's Development Role

Finally, it is critical to anticipate the questions that might arise from the incoming leader, particularly as they pertain to the role the leader plays in development programming. To do so, construct a “deeper dive” into the specific role the leader plays. This may take the form of a simple spreadsheet, and it will expand upon the responsibilities of the leader as they pertain to any projects typically undertaken.

We recommend a process that begins with the 6 interrogative words: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. These words help to frame the questions an incoming leader might ask to comprehend the context of their tasks.

To start, the format should look something like this:

Sample spreadsheet (scroll right if all 7 columns are not completely visible on your screen)
Specify the leader's development-specific events or projects. Define the purpose behind the program or activity. Identify the individuals or groups, including the aforementioned stakeholders, involved with the program or activity.

Define the whereabouts of the program.

For instance, the program may take place on site, or in one-on-one meetings.

Establish the timing of the program.

Confirm the event or activity is on the leader’s calendar

Indicate how the program or event might take place.

Is it to be held virtually or in-person?

Describe the specific role the leader plays in each program, activity or event.

In this manner, you are providing a framework for the leader’s duties as they pertain to the development program. Preparing this document and reviewing it with the new leader upon his/her assumption of office can eliminate any extra stress and avoid unnecessary confusion, setting up your development program for continued success.

From left to right, answer each interrogative word’s question regarding the programs.

Incorporating background reports, stakeholder identification and introduction strategies will be welcomed resources to help guide your new leader. Completing these three steps, can help your team during the transition process to take initiative confidently and achieve proactivity and long-term success moving forward.

Are you interested in transition counsel or help with executive recruitment? Drop us a line here and we'll connect you with one of our senior-level fundraising consultants.


Written by

Dean Rein

Dean Rein is Senior Counsel at Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt.


Questions or comments? Join the conversation!

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