Volunteers are a lot like shoes. I can buy the greatest pair of heels that seem to fit perfectly. But if I switch jobs and need running shoes instead, the heels no longer work. Like shoes, volunteers get tired and worn out if they’re overused. Sometimes, we just want to change things up and try a different style (volunteer job) or color (leadership role). And like shoes, if we invest in a really good pair and take care of them, they can last for years! Volunteer are a lot like shoes.
Deeply committed volunteers. They’re the ones who show up well before dawn to make sure everything is ready when the masses arrive. They’re the ones who work their real job and still find time to put in the equivalent of a part-time job in volunteer hours. They’re the ones who stay after until every last canopy is collapsed and every last piece of trash is picked up. They are volunteer leaders and nonprofits would have a hard time functioning without them. In fact, we rely so heavily on them that we often take them for granted.
Succession planning is critical to a nonprofit’s success and there are few things that are more important to an organization’s sustainability. There are some simple things you can do to prepare for the transition of leadership. Begin talking about it. What type of “volunteer career path” do you have? If you don’t have term limits, consider them. If you do, make sure you have a plan in place for who will fill what role. Consider a mentoring program where the incoming Chair can shadow the existing Chairperson and learn the ropes before taking the reins. If you’ve got a small group of people doing everything (which is often the case!), consider subcommittees as a way to groom future talent. And by all means, realize you can’t do everything. Create your team.
Whether you’re on staff at a nonprofit or a volunteer on the board, I urge you to take an inventory of your prime-time volunteers and ask yourself, “Who will fill those shoes?”