Transition Guide for Executive Directors - Nonprofit Executive Search, Succession, and Planning


What an exciting and challenging job! It's hard to imagine anything more fulfilling than successfully leading an organization committed to an important public purpose. Our communities and the people and institutions we serve rely on your leadership to add value, hope and opportunity.

At the same time, being an executive director can be lonely, frustrating and, in some circumstances, a miserable experience. Our work and research point to three keys to success for executives:

1. Crefully picking the right organization to lead and getting started well;
2. Partnering with your board and staff around a clear mission, strategy, and business plan; and
3. Knowing when and how to prepare the organization for your departure and leaving gracefully.

Thriving, well-led organizations and their executives are self-reflective, keep an eye on where they are in their organizational life cycle and development, and use internal and external resources well.

If you are an executive director who is planning his/her departure, we suggest reviewing the Executive Transition Overview, especially the Transition Tips for Departing Executives. We also have a piece for founders and successors.

If your are a founder, please see the Founder article in this section as well as Founder Case Studies and the Founder Transition Lessons.

If you have just been hired as an executive director, you may find our Tips for Arriving Executives to be useful.