Cultural NPOs: the sensitive issue of succession

June 17, 2014

The question of ensuring smooth executive succession for non-profit cultural organizations is a major concern in the arts and culture community, according to a recently published report on succession in senior management and artistic positions in cultural NPOs in Quebec.

The study by the HEC Montréal Research Group on Community and Cultural NPOs was conducted in spring 2012 and looked at more than 400 individuals working in senior management positions in non-profit cultural organizations. It received financial support from the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications and HEC Montréal.

Johanne Turbide, a Full Professor with the Department of Accounting Studies at HEC Montréal, Pascale Landry, a PhD student at HEC Montréal, and Me Sophie Préfontaine carried out this survey. The over thirty questions mainly concerned the succession of executives in the organization and the transfer of material heritage. Note that 56% of survey respondents held a senior management position, and 68% of respondents worked for an organization that had been around for at least 20 years.

“Overall, respondents confirmed that the succession picture is rather worrisome,” explains Johanne Turbide, Director of the research group. “We also found that despite the importance of the issue, there is little documentation on succession in the culture sector, and few tools available to support NPOs in this transition.”

Some highlights:

Existing senior managers are relatively old: 67% of respondents were over 46 years old. In addition, a large number of them were planning to leave their positions and not continue a career in a cultural NPO. According to the survey, almost half (45%) of respondents were thinking of leaving their organization within the next six years.

Founders’ presence is important: Nearly one-third of respondents (27%) were founders or co-founders of their organizations. The respondents said that replacing a founder or co-founder can give rise to special problems, especially when the continued existence of the organization is at stake.

The lack of resources leads to poor succession planning: Although a large proportion of senior managers are thinking of leaving their positions within less than six years, few cultural organizations have a succession plan. Three-quarters (76%) of respondents said that to their knowledge their organizations had no such plan. Many respondents noted that with the already heavy demands on human and financial resources, there was little latitude for succession planning; even for those who do take it into account, it is difficult to develop future managers internally or to ensure smooth transitions between two management teams.

Senior managers feel that their organizations will survive without them: 83% of respondents were convinced that their departure would not spell the end of the organization. Nonetheless, founders were less sure about the impact of their leaving, with only 60% of them saying that the organization would continue its operations.

“On the strength of this report we will continue studying this sector and work proactively to develop better tools with these organizations,” concludes Professor Turbide. “We hope this will help us continue to work closely with and support cultural organizations.”

The entire report, La succession aux postes de direction générale et artistique dans les OBNL culturels du Québec, is available on the site.

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