815-801-3035 info@fornwil.org

The expression “passing the torch” is a metaphor alluding to the ancient Greek torch races where a runner passes a torch to another runner, each one entering to advance the whole team toward achieving its goal to finish the race. Today, the Olympic Torch Relay signals the start of the Olympic Games and communicates a message of peace and friendship along its route.

Within the lifespan of every nonprofit organization (NPO), there also exists this notion of passing the torch. When an NPO is launched with its first board of directors and organizational leadership, those people eventually change—whether by built-in term limits or by the evolving of lives of individuals involved.   For whatever reason, the torch IS eventually passed, and these organizations begin to evolve from their earliest iteration

Planning for the future leadership of an organization is an active role of leadership for the present. With the mission as the focus and the intention to serve for years to come, succession planning should be a consideration for every organization. Succession planning is the process of identifying the critical positions within your organization and developing action plans for others to assume those roles. It is, at its core, the passing of the torch.

Back to the metaphor—the race to the finish line is not a passive endeavor. Each person who holds the torch for their portion of the race knows that they are passing it to the next runner, and they are actively working their way to that person to successfully move the torch closer to the end of the race. The leadership of every nonprofit organization should be thinking about the race and who the torch will be passed to next—succession planning should be a consideration of every organization.

A few things to consider as you think about “passing the torch”:

  1. Engage board and staff in a commitment to manage transitions intentionally.
  2. Identify current and potential challenges and the leadership qualities needed to navigate those challenges.
  3. Consider whether placing an interim leader at the wheel is right for your organization.
  4. Cross-train staff to minimize disruptions.
  5. On-board deliberately: help new board members feel confident and find their own voices.
  6. Identify leadership development opportunities for staff and board to expand their leadership skills so that the organization continues to grow and move forward.