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Seamless Succession: How Foundations Can Optimize Executive Transitions
Kris Putnam-Walkerly -- Global Philanthropy Expert Kris Putnam-Walkerly -- Global Philanthropy Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Cleveland, OH
Monday, September 18, 2023


Executive transitions are inevitable in the lifecycle of any organization.

However, they need not be a source of anxiety or disruption. With thoughtful planning and the right stakeholders, foundations can craft a streamlined executive transition and succession plan that not only ensures a seamless leadership shift but also strengthens the organization and amplifies its impact.

In fact, with the right approach, foundation executive transition planning can become a powerful tool for organizational enhancement.

1. Begin with a Vision of the Ideal Future.

Every journey starts with a destination in mind. Before diving into the intricacies of transition, visualize your foundation’s perfect post-transition scenario. How would stakeholders react if the new CEO integrates seamlessly and even surpasses expectations? By rooting your foundation executive transition plan in shared aspirations, you move beyond mere transactional activities, setting a tone of optimism and forward-thinking.

2. Strengthen Organizational Governance.

The foundation’s governance structure plays a pivotal role during transitions. Assess the readiness and roles of trustees in this phase. Are your bylaws current, or do they reflect outdated realities? By ensuring that governance structures are modern and flexible, you pave the way for the new executive director to operate without being encumbered by legacy issues, making the transition smoother.

3. Optimize Organizational Structure.

An executive transition is an opportune moment to evaluate the organization’s structural efficiency. Does the current organizational chart, especially concerning the CEO’s duties, need tweaking? Redistributing tasks can free up the new leader’s time for strategic initiatives and implementing the foundation’s executive transition plan. Moreover, this period might be ripe for staff restructuring, aligning with fresh strategic visions and ensuring agility.

4. Ensure Operational Efficiency.

Operational bottlenecks can deter potential leaders. Address inefficiencies, streamline processes, and consider the future of underperforming members. An efficient foundation not only attracts top-tier leadership talent but also ensures that the new leader isn’t immediately bogged down by bureaucracy. A smooth internal operation can be a significant draw for prospective executives, showcasing the foundation’s commitment to excellence.

5. Prioritize Strategic Goals.

While transitions are pivotal, they shouldn’t eclipse the foundation’s ongoing strategic goals. It’s essential to strike a balance—adjusting timelines and priorities without losing momentum. While recruiting the right executive is a pressing concern, sidelining other organizational priorities can be detrimental in the long run. A balanced approach ensures continuity and progress.

6. Approach Recruitment Deliberately.

Recruitment is more than just filling a vacancy—it’s about future-proofing the foundation. Whether you’re considering a full-service search firm or leveraging your network, the emphasis should be on quality. A well-crafted job description, a clear recruitment strategy, and a structured interview process can make all the difference. Thoughtful recruitment not only attracts the right talent but also sets the tone for the foundation’s future direction.

7. Set Up the New Leader for Success.

The initial days of a new leader can set the trajectory for their tenure. A comprehensive onboarding plan, mentorship opportunities, and possibly an executive advisor can be invaluable. Consider how the outgoing executive can play a supportive role. By ensuring the new leader has all the tools and guidance they need from day one, you’re not just facilitating their integration but also investing in the foundation’s future.

8. Facilitate Knowledge Transfer.

A new CEO should never be in the dark. From databases and organizational history to introductions with key stakeholders, ensure they have access to all pertinent information. This proactive approach not only speeds up the new CEO’s acclimatization but also ensures that no institutional knowledge is lost in the transition. A smooth knowledge transfer is a crucial component of foundation executive transition planning, ensuring continuity and maintaining the foundation’s operational rhythm.

9. Prioritize Clear Communication.

Transparency is the cornerstone of trust. Identify all stakeholders and devise a communication strategy tailored to each group. The timing, mode, and content of communication can significantly influence perceptions. By ensuring that all parties, from board members and community members, are kept in the loop, you are fostering an environment of trust and collaboration, which is vital during periods of change.

10. Uphold Legal and Financial Responsibilities.

Amidst the whirlwind of executive transitions, legal and financial obligations remain paramount. Ensuring assets are managed, bills are paid on time, taxes are filed, and all compliance measures are met is non-negotiable. A foundation that remains steadfast in its commitments, even during transitions, showcases its reliability and integrity, further solidifying its reputation.

In conclusion, foundation executive transitions, when approached with foresight and strategy, can be more than just a change in leadership—they can mitigate risk and catalyze organizational growth. If you’re at the helm of a foundation, consider leveraging these transitions as opportunities for rejuvenation and evolution.

And speaking of opportunity! I have another opportunity for you to join me at my Succession Planning Event in October. My free, 90-minute guided workshop helps foundation CEOs and trustees go from “Overwhelmed” to “Oh, I got this!” when tackling succession planning & avoiding the costly mistakes of procrastination. Learn simple yet powerful tools to solve larger organizational challenges and maximize philanthropic impact. Click the button below to RSVP today!

This article was originally written for and published by Forbes.com.

© 2023 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

About Kris Putnam-Walkerly

For over 20 years, top global philanthropies, UHNW donors, celebrity activists, foundations, wealth advisors, and Fortune 500 companies have sought Kris Putnam-Walkerly’s philanthropic advisory services to dramatically increase the clarity, speed, impact and joy of their giving. As a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert, speaker and award-winning author, she’s helped hundreds of foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts. Kris also contributes expert philanthropic commentary to the WSJ, Forbes, Washington Post, Bloomberg, Alliance Magazine, Variety, Thrive Global, Worth Magazine, NPR's Morning Report, and other media. Awards include being named "Philanthropy Advisor of the Year" in 2020 and 2021, "Most Dedicated Philanthropic Advisor" in 2021, one of “America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers" three years in a row, and most recently was a finalist for the 2022 Family Wealth Report Awards for “Philanthropy Advice.” Kris is the author of Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail To Achieve Change and What They Can Do To Transform Giving (Wiley, 2020) and Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders.

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Name: Kris Putnam-Walkerly
Title: Global Philanthropy Expert
Group: Putnam Consulting Group, Inc.
Dateline: Westlake, OH United States
Main Phone: 800-598-2102
Cell Phone: 510-388-5231
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