Hosted by the Friends of Rogerson Clematis Collection
at the Oswego Heritage House
Saturday 21 October 2017

Succession Planning Paving the Way for Leadership Change and Continuity with Non-profit Organizations


Consultant Paula Manley led the morning presentation. She has expertise in leadership development, leadership transitions, and succession planning which is based on more than three decades of involvement in the nonprofit sector. She has been an executive director, program director, board leader, program volunteer, and finally a consultant for Non-Profit organizations. The afternoon presentation was led by Pamela Governale and James B. Hall of the Garden Conservancy and addressed the question of what factors that affect the successful evolution of small public gardens.

Morning presentation:

Paula begin by providing those in the workshop with some definitions for succession planning: Succession planning seeks to assure continuity for staff and volunteer leadership so that the organization and its mission are sustained.

Emergency succession planning involves defining backup procedures so that key functions are fulfilled in the event of an unexpected departure or planned short-term absence.

Strategic succession planning is usually initiated preceding the planned departure of an important staff person or volunteer. It entails assessing and strengthening management and governance capabilities to prepare the way for a change in executive leadership. The first step in this process is to document the organization’s culture including core values, which must be sustained for the organization to thrive. The second is to assess key organizational functions with an eye to sustainability. The third step is to create a plan of action which broadens relationships and strengthens organizational capabilities so that the staff structure and operations are well balances and strong.

As the next step in the program, each participant was asked to access their organization’s readiness for succession. There were seven criteria included in the evaluation process: board development, staff and volunteer development; financial management; strategy development; fundraising; community relations; and public policy and advocacy. All of these activities are affected by changes in important staff and volunteer positions. The Board needs to work well with key staff and volunteers, thus the Board may require training or other preparation for personnel changes. Staff and volunteers may need to adjust their activities and responsibilities to accommodate a new person or position. The Policies procedures and systems for managing finances need to be current and well documented with accountability and the transparency to facilitate a smooth transition. A refined focused strategic plan is a great aid to the whole organization but particularly any new person. Because relationships are so important to fundraising, preparations for transitions need to start in advance of a change in the people involved. Those in your community with a keen interest in your organization will be concerned when your organization makes changes, so communicating with your public about these changes is very important. If the position in transition is important to your organization’s public policy and advocacy, then some transition work and planning will assure all the parties involved are comfortable with the change.

Several participants were concerned about board development and in response Manley discussed in more detail the need to train board members to share their work by delegating. The need to education Board recruits to the responsibilities of being a Board member. She also recommended that Board members be encouraged to attend some of the many training programs available to give them in the skills they need.

Besides specific planning for succession there are some routine practices that an organization can adopt which lay a foundation for healthy leadership and leadership transition:

1. Develop multiple leaders and share power among them: Build an organization where people are educated about leadership through mentoring, participation in peer networks, “stretch” assignments and opportunities to represent the organization (e.g. meetings, community events, or conferences.) Ownership of the mission is strengthened when power is shared. Expand leadership responsibilities beyond the executive director position by inviting others to learn, engage, and participate in decision-making.

2. Foster a healthy organizational culture: Organizational culture is the system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs that govern how people behave in your organization. Core values are most often tacit and may need to be made explicit during times of transition so there is a transparent common understanding of what the organizations values are.

3. Invest in the people who work with your organization, your staff: Do your organizational best to pay adequate salaries and benefits for all staff, it is basic.

4. Create systems to transfer knowledge with ease: Document procedures and processes to ensure no one person has what the organization needs only in their head. Back experience up.

5. Stay up-to–date with strategic planning: Strategic planning gives your organization an opportunity to engage the board, staff and other stakeholders to assess the organization’s strengths and challenges, review the trends in Non-Profits in your community, articulate your shared vision, and evolve priorities and strategies to realize your mission.

6. Evaluate your activities: Make sure your programs are evaluated through informal and formal means and that the results are reviewed and reported to the Board so your organization responds to its community’s needs.

7. Make sure the job descriptions for key personnel and volunteers are doable: Review job descriptions with employees and volunteers annually and alter them when necessary. Offer training where appropriate.

8. Create and emergency succession plan: Develop and test a plan for emergency succession: Develop the plan, evaluate it by testing it, and modify it to assure that you are working toward your mission. Use the vacation of an employee or a volunteer as a means of testing and reviewing your plan.

The final portion of the presentation focused on developing a legacy statement for a departing staff person or volunteer. This statement summarizes the contributions of the departing person in the context of the organization’s history and mission. This statement assists the new employee or volunteer in realizing what the job actually entails and aids in their cultivation. Manley began this portion of the program by asking the participants to draw out an experience they had working with their organization that exemplified its core values and mission. These examples from each of the participation organizations at their best were discussed first in small groups and then by all the participants in the workshop. This discussion revealed why these statements are effective. As part of the effort to develop a coherent legacy for an important departing volunteer or staff member, an organization should ask that individual to develop a legacy statement.

Manley offered us a legacy statement worksheet, consider the following she advised:

• What are this individual’s most important accomplishments for the organization? How have they contributed to the realization of the organization’s mission?
• What facts and figures help tell the story of this individual’s contributions?
• A brief description of why the person is departing
• A brief description of the person’s future plans

Manley also referred participants to some additional resources on succession planning:

Compass point: Succession planning articles, reports, and tools including a succession readiness checklist and a template for creating an Emergency Succession Plan.

Transition Guides:

National Council of Nonprofits:
Planning tips for leadership transitions and a Non-profit Executive Succession Planning Toolkit

Books on succession planning:

Adams, Tom, The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide: Proven Paths for Leaders and Organizations, Wiley, 2010 (

Tebbe, Don, The Nonprofit CEO Succession Roadmap: Your Guide for the Journey to Life’s Next Chapter, 2017 (, a self-published book.

I would add to these Paula Manley’s website:
Paula Manley’s website:

Afternoon presentation:

Pamela Governale, the Director of Preservation at the Garden Conservancy, and James Brayton Hall, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Garden Conservancy, collaborated on this presentation on the factors critical to the successful evolution of small public gardens. The Garden Conservancy has worked with a number of gardens across this country since 1989 in its efforts to realize its mission to save and share outstanding American Gardens for the education and inspiration of the public. Through working with a number of gardeners and gardens both private and public they have come to realize three common elements are important to the success of a garden as a public garden. The ingredients for success are: legacy (designer, collection, historical significance); context (culture, density of population, and demographics) and resources (human and financial).

Using three west coast gardens, the Ruth Bancroft Garden (Walnut Creek, CA), Gaiety Hollow (Salem, OR), and the Chase Garden (Orting, WA) as case studies, they elaborated upon how these three factors have played an important role in determining the success of those who would make a public garden succeed.

The first case study was the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California. By the 1980’s this garden had an international reputation as a beautifully designed dry garden developed at a time, the 1970’s, when garden designers in California were beginning to realize the importance of developing residential and other landscapes that respected the dry environments in which they were planted. Thus, it is an exceptional example of the evolution of garden design in the American West.

By the last decade of the 20th century when the first efforts to develop this private garden into a public garden were taken, the context in which the garden was located had been transformed. There was a rural surround when Ruth began to garden in the 1940’s, and by the 1980’s it had become a well to do suburban neighborhood where many people gardened. The Walnut Creek and surrounding communities have been a definite asset to the gardens success, they have given it much support. Board members with experience in managing boards were recruited in adequate numbers and the community was willing and able to give good fiscal support to the garden. Additionally, the avid gardening public in the area frequents the Bancroft Garden nursery and attends their annual round of educational programs. There is also a good source of qualified professional horticulturalists and botanists form which to staff the gardens.

Even with these resources there are challenges in maintaining the garden with pathways needing repair, vandalism and the need for wayfinding and interpretation.

The second case study, the Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver home garden, Gaiety Hollow, in Salem, Oregon is the personal garden of the two women who owned and operated the landscape architecture firm of Lord and Schryver. Theirs was the first female landscape architect firm in the Pacific Northwest. The firm designed over 250 landscapes and gardens in the region between 1929-1969. Their design work influenced the evolution of garden design on the west coast. The garden, less than ½ acre, was developed over a 40-year period and is considered to be the tour de force of their life work, created to demonstrate their design principles and plant palette, unfettered by client’s wishes. This garden is a historic site and a public garden.

The context of the garden is the town in which the prominent and socially active Lord family resided for many years, the capitol of the state of Oregon. There has been good public support for the work of the Lord and Schryver Conservancy to preserve the legacy of this design firm. They have supported the preservation of three gardens: their private garden, Bush Park, and the Deepwood Estate all in Salem. The Lord and Schryver Conservancy has worked long and careful on the documentation of the firm’s work, winning recognition for the quality of their reports. They have a track record of successful grants.

The resources of Gaiety Hollow are in those people who have committed themselves to the Conservancy and in their community. The residents of this capital city have respect for the cultural evolution of the region, a love of gardening, and are generally better off. It has been possible to recruit qualified board members and to hire qualified gardening staff in an area where wholesale horticultural growing operations and many professionals and business people are successful. The Lord and Schryver Conservancy members have a long record of receiving grants. Resources are not unlimited, however and Lord and Schryver Conservancy has yet to build an endowment.

The third case study, the Chase Garden, in Orting, Washington, was built by a gardening and hiking couple Ione and Emmott Chase. Called “one of the ten most beautiful gardens in America,” it is a 4 ½-acre garden that artfully combines Japanese and midcentury designed residence into a naturalistic Pacific Northwest woodland landscape. The garden is perched on a bluff overlooking a grand vista of the Puyallup River Valley, the forested Cascade foothills, and Mount Rainier. For over forty years, starting in the 1960’s, Emmott and Ione Chase built this creative interpretation of the natural landscape, with drifts of rock garden plants inspired by Mount Rainier’s storied “Paradise” wildflower fields. This garden is emblematic of Post-World War II Garden Design in the Pacific Northwest.

The context of the garden is evolving rapidly as the reach of metropolitan Seattle-Tacoma extends, yet the immediate surround of the garden is still a fairly rural. The closest cities are Orting (population 6,740) and Graham (population 23,490). The Friends Group was organized in the latter half of the 1990’s and did much to further the garden’s evolution as a public garden: opening the garden to docent tours, holding open days, and plant sales on an annual basis. The Friends were composed of people from the immediate area and metropolitan Seattle and Tacoma. Recently however, the Friends lost their 501 C3 status and disband. Recruiting people experienced in board practices has not been easy. The community immediate to the garden is not densely populated and is not as well to do as that in the urban communities more distant to the garden.

The fiscal and human resources of the garden are not great. The Chases did not leave an endowment in addition to their gift of the property. The ability to raise money in the immediate community is limited. Staff for the garden have, once hired, moved into the area. Support for the arts was limited in part by the lack of density.

All three gardens have value as legacy gardens. However, it has been those two gardens whose surrounding communities have had sufficient density and wealth coupled with a tradition of supporting the arts and an interest in horticulture, that have been successful in sustaining themselves. The contextual circumstances of each of these public gardens have provided their foundations with the volunteers and staff they needed to operate, the governance necessary to build their organizations and further their mission to evolve the gardens, and the fiscal resources to keep the operations going. The balance between the various factors is dynamic and, for example, in time there may be the community necessary to sustain Chase, the residential population in the area is increasing rapidly.


PROJECT REPORTS: The statistics of which the Passport working group is aware after two years indicate that only a few of the passports have been used as originally intended, as a means to receive some benefit at one of the member organizations. Thus, there will be a survey sent out to solicit in more detail each organization’s experience with the Passport and discover what direction we might take with promotions in 2018 and beyond.
WORKSHOPS FOR SPRING AND FALL 2018: The spring 2018 workshop will be at the Dunn Gardens in Seattle, WA on Saturday 24th of February. The topic will be determined by a survey with the most desired topic presented.

The Steering committee is strongly considering having the Fall 2018 workshop in Spokane Washington. Topic to be determined.


  • The GCNN and Historic Seattle are cooperating in the presentation of a program on the Value of Public Gardens in the Pacific Northwest. It will be held on Saturday 21 April 2018 at the Good Shepard Center in Seattle, WA. You will receive an announcement of the program before the end January 2018.
  • The Lord and Schryver Conservancy in Salem, Oregon is searching for an Executive Director.


Last update: 18 February, 2018