Succession Planning: Who Will Your Next Board Members Be and When is Too Early to Start Planning?

Posted on
10 Mar 2020
Hannah Coleman, Boardmatch Ireland

Now, more than ever, strong leadership is vital. Succession planning is a key part of developing your board or committee, and in turn, your organisation.

The Charities’ Regulator has helped to ensure that all charities realise the importance of succession planning by including it as a requirement in Principle 5 of the Governance Code: ‘Working Effectively’. This states that, “It is also important that there is a good mix of skills, experience and background amongst charity trustees and that these are refreshed on an ongoing basis, this ensures good board rotation also.”

Having a plan and being prepared for your board or committee recruitment needs lessens the potential risk for the organisation.

Skill Identification and Development

It is first important to identify the following:

  • The existing skills you have on your board
  • Where potential skills gaps may be

Do you know what skills are currently around your board table and what skills you are missing that could help grow your board and make it more effective?

We recommend that you review the skills on your board at least once a year. This can be through a simple exercise and there are many templates available to assist the exercise. Each board member identifies what skills, expertise, or experience they bring to the board, then the group will compare all the answers and see what areas you have covered and what skills may be missing. This will help you to identify the types of candidates you would like to approach about joining your board.

If you are a larger organisation, reviewing the skills around your board can be connected to your strategic objectives, ensuring that you have the variety of skills to compliment your organisation’s strategy and aid implementation.

Board rotation and new recruitment brings new ideas and fresh perspectives around the table, but developing existing board members for specific board roles can sometimes be more beneficial. They already have an internal knowledge of the organisation, and may just need further support, advice, or guidance to take on a new role.

Terms Limits

It’s not always possible to control or foresee a board member’s departure. However, there are times when you can control your board rotation.

  • Does your board or committee have term limits in place?
  • Do you keep a record of each person’s current length of term?  

Boardmatch and The Charities’ Regulator recommends term limits as part of good governance. Again, this ensures good board rotation and makes sure the board continues to be refreshed every so often.

If you do have term limits in your organisation’s constitution, make sure you keep a record of each person’s start date and departure date. This will help you to prepare for the change and allow time for a handover if required.

You don’t ever want to be without a key skill or expertise on your board, so if you know that your board member with finance expertise will step down in September, start searching for their replacement in March of that year. Similarly, you may have a service user or stakeholder representative on the board, if you know when their term limit ends, prepare to fill that role a few months in advance of them departing.

Planning for your Recruitment

Once you have identified the skills the Board needs, the next steps will be to prepare your role specs outlining your requirements for the eager applicants, and what is involved in joining your board.

A clear role spec will ensure that applicants are fully aware of the commitment in advance of talking with you and will help with the retention of new trustees/directors/members.

Boardmatch have role spec templates on our website which can give you some food for thought when creating your own. You can access them for free here:

From our experience in board recruitment, we have found that potential candidates are impressed by organisations who are prepared and have clear processes in place. So long as the organisation keeps communication open with the potential trustee and keeps them updated on the timeframe of the recruitment, most candidates are happy to wait to join the board.

Having clear processes in place reassures a candidate that you take value in your board and understand the importance of maintaining continuity on the board. It’s certainly easier said than done sometimes, particularly if you are a small organisation, or entirely volunteer-led. However, it’s worth setting time aside for this if possible.

Finding Potential Candidates

Although it’s valuable to have a board of people who understand and are involved in your organisation, it’s also important to source new, independent people to join your board.

As it’s important to have variety on your board, it is a great idea to look outside of the normal circles you seek trustees from. You never know who you might find that has the expertise that you require and a great passion for the work that you do, even if they have never previously been involved in your organisation!

You can advertise on your website and also on the Boardmatch Ireland website ( Boardmatch is the only charity in Ireland specialising in charity and not-for-profit board recruitment with our dedicated free board recruitment website. By using a website like Boardmatch, you instantly get access to a large database of individuals actively seeking voluntary board positions in the nonprofit sector.

Our Final Top Tips:

  1. Identify the skills and expertise you are looking for on your board
  2. Keep track of the term limits of your current board members
  3. Be prepared and plan your role specs and process in advance of reaching out to potential candidates
  4. Take the plunge and reach out to new, independent people who will offer new skills, perspectives, and insights to your board!

Hannah Coleman is the Communications and Regional Development Manager for Boardmatch Ireland, the only Irish charity that specialises in charity and not-for-profit board recruitment. Hannah oversees Boardmatch’s free board recruitment website, board training, and board effectiveness reviews. Hannah is also a Board Trustee of the Irish National Youth Ballet. To find out more about Boardmatch, visit our website: