It is a story that is all too common: a small nonprofit finds itself in trouble when a key staff member retires, becomes ill, or leaves suddenly for a different job. Skill sets may be lost, as well as community contacts, expertise, and the confidence of people within and without the organization when a key employee leaves. Even small organizations can benefit from planning for what will happen WHEN a key staff member leaves the organization.
In a very small organization'”say one with five employees'”every staff member may be considered key. The loss of an experienced office manager can be just as stressful and detrimental as the loss of an executive or fiscal director if there has been no overlap of information or plan for passing along tasks and information.
The first step is to make sure that clear, detailed, and updated job descriptions exist for all staff positions. It is common in nonprofit organizations for jobs to change and shift regularly, depending on funding, program changes and even the skill sets and personalities of the individuals who staff the positions. Keep job descriptions as accurate as possible to allow for a foundation for a replacement.
Take regular inventory of the skills, contacts, education, information, etc. that existing key staff have. It is important for an organization to know what it has and what it needs so that current staff can be cross-trained or encouraged to develop new skills in preparation for changes. Supervisors should have a clear idea of what each employee does, as well as where the gaps are so that a plan can be made to improve skill sets and performance.
Check in regularly with key staff to track plans'”if retirement or other considerations (a need for a new or different job, for example) are on the horizon, it is important to pay attention and prepare for the turnover before it happens. Whether through the training of existing staff or through the hiring of new staff to prepare for the succession, preparation will help a nonprofit organization make a smooth transition when key staff changes.