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We are committed to learning from research and incorporating it into our practices.   Here's some insight into current research. 

Executive Transition Related Research, Updated April 2019


Published / Completed:

Exploring nonprofit executive turnover.  Published 2016 in Nonprofit Management and Leadership (Volume 27, issue 1, pages 43-58; Amanda J. Stewart)

  • Based on interviews with forty executives of nonprofits that had recently replaced the executive.  Documents factors and dynamics that define nonprofit executive turnover.


Exploring board perspectives on non-profit executive turnover.  Published 2017 in Voluntary Sector Review (Volume 8, issue 2, pages 169-186; Amanda J. Stewart)

  • Reports on interviews and surveys of board that had overseen a recent executive transition.  Describes why board management of executive transitions may stray from the prescribed ideal and raises implications of board–executive relations for the board's management of executive turnover.


Executive succession: Closing the gap between ideals and practice.  Published 2017 in Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership (Volume 7, issue 4; Don Tebbe, Amanda J. Stewart, Mary Bear Hughes, and Thomas Adams). 

  • Documents discussions of the author to understand the current state of executive transition practice and proposes areas for related future research


Retrospective Study: Practitioner Review of Executive Transition Cases  Not published, but can be made available.

  • Preliminary results from a 2016 case review of completed executive transitions by experienced consultants formerly employed by CompassPoint, The Foraker Group (the state nonprofit association for Alaska), and Raffa, P.C. show that the executive transition approach sustains and fortifies already-strong organizations; addresses critical challenges in board governance, strategy, finance, management, and staffing of stable organizations; when an organization is in crisis, addresses issues of viability that must be resolved prior to onboarding a new executive; and helps organizations facing a challenging founder transition reach closure and prepare for a successor.


Current Research:

Desired vs. Actual Outcomes: Investigating Board Leadership of Executive Transitions

  • Compiled survey responses from boards in the midst of an executive transition and follow up survey one year later

  • Investigates how nonprofit boards approach and define the success of an executive transition and documents differences according to the transition approach

  • Working paper drafted, to be submitted for peer review by May 2019


Leadership Capacity as Organizational Capacity

  • Implements a survey using the Georgia State Nonprofit Organizations Research Panel project

  • Explores elements of noprofit leadership, including planning for leadership continuity and the relations of the executive and board that contribute to organizational performance

  • Survey design completed by June 2019, survey implemented fall 2019


Minding the gap:  An exploratory study of what roles and activities nonprofit boards prioritize during executive transitions

  • Interviews with board members that had recently overseen an executive transition

  • Explores what roles do boards take on/prioritize in managing a transition

  • Working paper drafted, to be submitted for peer review by July 2019


Evaluating the “Glass Cliff Hypothesis:” Are female nonprofit executives appointed to precarious positions?

  • Quantitative analysis of 998 health, human service, and arts nonprofits to link the pre-turnover performance of the nonprofit to explain the likelihood a female is promoted to the executive position

  • Proposed to ARNOVA 2019; working paper completed by December 2019


Evaluating Performance Implications of Nonprofit Executive Turnover

  • Investigate what are the financial implications of a nonprofit executive transition to evaluate the centrality of the nonprofit executive (i.e. how much does who is in the position matter for the performance of a nonprofit)

  • Update data on 998 nonprofits (current financial data through 2010); working with NC State data services to update previous data set collected through 2010


Research Ideas:

  • A longitudinal study:  The role of nonprofit leadership in equipping nonprofit performance

    • Building off of the pilot survey implemented with NORP (see above), this study would investigate the leadership ‘factor’ of nonprofits, evaluating if and how nonprofit executive and boards contribute to organizational performance.

    • The proposed research design includes a survey method deployed to a large national random sample of nonprofits, which would ask for responses from both executives and board members.  The nonprofits would be asked to participate in a periodic survey so as to evaluate the influence of changes over time for the leadership and performance needs of the nonprofit.  

  • Comparing Transition Approaches and Outcomes

    • Possibility to investigate differences among approaches and outcomes, using turnover events that were identified from another data set

  • Engage respondents to the Desired vs. Actual Outcomes survey

    • Link to 990s and compare organizational outcomes based on how the nonprofit managed the transition

    • Consider what characteristics relate to a board engaging a transition more strategically: board chair tenure; other capacity pre-turnover; reason for turnover

  • Engage relations reported in the BoardSource LWI Data

    • Document characteristics of boards, executives, organizations that have created a succession plan, including tenure and capacity of the executive and board.

    • Document the degree of the board’s degree of preparation given the CEO’s turnover intention, including executive characteristics, board-executive relations, and board capacity/functioning

    • Relate the capacity of organizations to the capacity of their board, based on the size, funding model, and staffing of the nonprofit.

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