Succession planning is about putting systems in place to ensure smooth club operation and transition of new volunteers as old volunteers leave the club. It’s a long-term plan to ensure there is someone ready to step up into the role and transitions smoothly so the club can continue to meet its strategic objectives into the future.

As many clubs know too well, there are a handful of volunteers that have been in roles for years because there is no one to take over. This means the volunteer can get burnt-out and even resentful, leaving the club in a hurry, and leaving a gap in knowledge and expertise. Even if there is someone willing to take over, the task is often too great, and their lack of skills or knowledge prevents them from doing so. Correct succession planning will reduce the risk and ensure the club continues to run successfully despite volunteer turnover.

Succession planning also encourages targeted recruitment of volunteers, investment in developing volunteers’ skills and valuing their contribution. It allows volunteers to see a clear path for progression through the club and avoids the senior club members being in the same role for long periods of time which potentially creates a stagnant, rigid and unappealing club culture for new (and younger) volunteers.

Other benefits of succession planning include:

  • Continuity for the club at times of volunteer turnover and minimises disturbance to club activities;
  • Recognition and reward for long serving volunteers as they become mentors to new volunteers and can share their knowledge – be seen as leaving their ‘legacy’
  • Sets a clear plan for volunteer progression and replacement so the club isn’t left stranded when a volunteer leaves
  • Ensures effective information sharing and record keeping avoiding the loss of critical information
  • Improves volunteer recruitment and retention as volunteers know what they are committing to and know who to do their role

The succession planning process doesn’t have to be daunting and can be broken down into 5 easy steps.

Step One: Examine the club position

Succession planning is about what you need to do now to ensure that your club meets its objectives in the future. To start the succession planning process, you first need to get an understanding of where your club is now and where it wants to go in the future. This is where the club’s Strategic Plan will come in handy!

Once you have looked at the club’s current position and future goals, it is essential to identify the vital roles that play a part in the current and future success of the club. Start by making a list of these roles, and the responsibility and skills required by the roles. When making the list, ask yourself:

  • What roles are important to the success of the club now?
  • What roles are needed now but don’t have?
  • What roles are needed in the future?
  • What roles can the club not survive without?

For those roles that are currently filled, identify when that role may become vacant due to people relocation, retiring, constitution requirements for position turnover or any other reason.

Step 2: Identify skills required to fill critical roles in your club

Now that you have identified all the critical roles, you need to identify what the roles are for and what is needed to be successful in the role. Its best to work with people currently in the roles as well as the rest of the club committee to answer the following questions:

  • What are the main objectives of this role?
  • What skills are needed to do this role?
  • What training and education options are available for the role?

This information will help create position descriptions for each role. Position descriptions are crucial to affective succession planning (and volunteer management) and ensure the right person is found for the role. A person would not start a new job without a position description so why would they start a volunteer role without one?

Step 3: Identify potential successors

Identifying successors for each role will ensure there is a new person waiting in the wings when the current person moves on. It also allows time for on the job training and any other additional training needs making the transition into the new role as seamless as possible.

This is where your position descriptions and Volunteer Database will be helpful. Compare the skills required for the role (as listed in the PDs) with the skills of current volunteers as listed in the volunteer database. This will help identify any potential successors and determine whether the club may need to look externally for new successors. The volunteer management information will help with the recruitment and induction of the potential successors.

Step 4: Develop and prepare potential successors

While you may have the perfect volunteer lined up for the role, its recommended that training and development is still provided to ensure they can confidently step into the role when required. This could include:

  • Formal training and courses
  • Shadowing current volunteers to gain “on the job” experience
  • Mentoring or coaching

To ensure the successor is prepared and ready to step into the role, it is a good idea to create a training and development plan outlining the training, coaching, mentoring or work experience activities that they will engage in over a certain time period. This doesn’t need to be complicated – it can be listing the opportunities in the Succession Planning Spreadsheet.

Step 5: Evaluate your succession plan

Like any plan, the succession plan should be reviewed and evaluated regularly to ensure its effective and relevant. To effectively review the plan, the committee will need to set measurable indicators. These could include:

  • Volunteer turnover and reasons for departure
  • Volunteer feedback
  • Retention of successors and current volunteers
  • The nature of the transition to the new volunteers i.e. was it smooth or complicated?

It’s also important to review the plan to ensure:

  • Future vacancies are identified
  • New successors are identified, and training is successful
  • Job descriptions and other documents are current
  • The club is on track to achieving its goals

By monitoring performance and being aware of changes happening within your club, your succession plan will be more effective, more relevant and much more valuable to your club.

Who is responsible?

While the club committee is responsibility for establishing and evaluating the formal succession plan, all volunteers are responsible for ensuring the next volunteer can step into the role as smoothly as possible. This can include updating work instruction/manuals, providing handover notes, being available to mentor or train new volunteers and welcoming new volunteers.

Essential Documents for succession planning

The key to ensuring successful succession planning and smooth transition of volunteers is record keeping and information sharing. Too often clubs are left stranded because a key volunteer kept all the information in their head and didn’t share it, leaving a black hole when they go. To alleviate the risk, ensure important information is recorded and stored in a central location that is easily accessible. Important documents and information for successful succession planning includes:

  • Club Strategic Plan
  • Various club plans e.g. communication plan, recruitment plans etc
  • Position Descriptions
  • Various club databases e.g. volunteer database, sponsorship database, key contact database etc
  • Work instructions, volunteer manuals and handover notes
  • Polices and procedures