“The only constant in life is change.” While Heraclitus wasn’t thinking of fundraising when developing his theory of change, he is correct that change is a certainty that we must prepare for.

Deans, CEOs, physicians, etc., are essential advancement partners, and when they announce a departure – either from their current role or from the institution – our role as advancement professionals is to create a thoughtful transition plan related to our key constituencies.

We know the importance of this plan. So why do so many transition plans end up only partially fulfilled?

It’s natural for humans who are leaving a position to wane in their commitment to seeing through every initial plan. Leaders are not exempt from this instinct – and that’s where transition ground rules are essential.

Transition ground rules are not a transition plan that outlines activities, strategies and timelines. They are a two-way agreement between an advancement officer and the departing leader about the leader’s commitment to the transition plan.

Imagine how it would pave the way for implementing the transition plan if you and your leader created a clear agreement about how they will participate:

  • Key message points regarding the reason for departure and the continued vision for the institution/program/etc.
  • Amount of time each week devoted to advancement activities, including donor visits
  • Expectations for participation in appropriate advancement activities

The time to create ground rules is immediately upon announcement of the upcoming change. The closer the leader gets to departure, the more mentally disconnected they will become. Invest in this conversation while the leader is still invested in their role, and you will lay the groundwork for:

  • A mutually agreed upon approach and goals
  • A calm foundation to work from during times of unease
  • Clarity around roles

The advancement professional’s role does not end when a leader announces a transition. This is an opportunity for us to put our communications, planning and visioning skills to work to ensure we make the most of the opportunity.

Looking for additional tools to support leadership transitions, departures or arrivals? KDD Philanthropy offers coaching and training in this space. Contact us at kathy@kddphilanthropy.com.

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