Standard D12 Explained

Definition: Succession Plan1

A succession plan sets out how potential departures of key personnel would be dealt with in the short-term and long-term through internal or external candidates. It could define key competencies, identify pools of talent and outline how current staff members are being developed to fill positions.

Why is it important to identify critical positions and to develop succession plans for these positions? A succession plan describes how an organization will respond to the expected or unexpected departure of critical staff members. Being strategic about whom you hire is essential in the nonprofit sector, especially in small organizations where every individual has a significant impact on the overall effectiveness of the organization.2 Having a succession plan in place for critical positions promotes resilience within your organization and helps to mitigate against the disruptions that occur during employee transitions.3

The HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector recommends that if possible, succession plans should seek to develop talent from within your organization.4 Ongoing learning and professional development activities can then be tailored to enable staff members to take on new roles or responsibilities in the case of the departure of a key staff person.4

Benefits of succession planning include:3

  • Ensuring that your organization can continue to deliver services in the event that a key employee leaves 
  • Developing a pool of people who have the skills and abilities to move into newly vacated roles 
  • Promoting alignment between your organization’s vision and its human resources strategy, helping your organization accomplish its strategic goals 
  • Improving attraction and retention among employees who see opportunities for advancement within your organization 
  • Establishing a reputation for investing in employees and ensuring that they feel valued


From "Accreditation Preparation Workbook Section D: Staff Management,"  Katharine Zywert, Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo at the University of Waterloo, 2013.

  1. “Standards Program Definitions,” Imagine Canada, May 2011.
  2. Building a Talent Pipeline,” The Bridgespan Group, 2010.
  3. “Succession Planning,” in the HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector’s HR Toolkit.
  4. HR Management Standards: Second Edition,” HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector.


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