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Succession Planning Starts Now

by the AFRDS

If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to take the helm of a group or its fundraiser with no preparation, no records, and no help, you know how important smooth leadership transitions are. “I go into a lot of schools where the volunteers have no idea which company they used for fundraising last year,” says Steve Kirk, a fundraising professional in Phoenix, AZ. “They’re almost blind.”

Succession planning is vital, and fundraising can play an important role in this process, for this is where many people get their first taste of volunteer work. Having experienced volunteers ask newer people in the group individually to help with a product sale is a good way to get them involved. Then give them a task that is important but not overwhelming, such as recording and tallying sales or distributing orders. Another role sometimes overlooked is to keep good records of each step in the sale, along with all contact information. This will give them a sense of what’s involved in the overall fundraising process and will help them get to know other people in the organization. It’s a good way to groom them to take an even bigger role the next year.

Fundraising is a particularly good training ground for future leaders because it puts them in touch with practically everyone. “Taking part in fundraising will test volunteers,” says Kirk. “It develops leadership because they’ll work with hundreds of different personalities in planning and putting the sale on. Lots of fundraising chairs go on to become president of the PTA/PTO.” That’s what happened with Celeste Tienken, who helped with fundraising at her children’s middle school in Anderson, SC.

“When the money came in, I helped count it; fundraising was about all I did,” she says. “Then one of the secretaries who knew I had been volunteering recommended that I get even more involved at the high school.” At Westside High School, Tienken oversaw membership for a year and then went on to become president of the PTSO for three years.

Leadership develops most naturally when it’s gradual: from helping with delivery of orders to serving as assistant chair or co-chair of fundraising to overseeing fundraising for the entire year. Transitions are assured when leaders cultivate successors, bringing in assistants who can take over the following year. “The most successful parent organizations have vice presidents elected knowing that the next year or term they’re going to be president so you have automatic succession,” says Michael Freeman, a fundraising professional in Indianapolis, IN. “The most difficult situations are when an entire organization’s officers have left and all the people there are new.” Tienken remembers taking over a position once when her predecessor, who was moving, met her at a nursery to hand off the material. “That’s all I had,” she says. “It’s more ideal to work with someone for a year before taking over.”

To ensure a smooth transition in your organization, train next year’s leaders today with your next product sale.


About the Author: This article is from the Fall 2005 issue of the Fundraising Edge, an online publication of the Association of Fund Raisers and Direct Sellers and is reprinted with permission. Visit their web site at for more information and a look at the complete issues of the Fundraising Edge.
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