Handing Over Leadership
Last updated April 3, 2023
Image: EA UCT (University of Cape Town)
Groups thrive when they’re led by committed, talented, and hardworking organizers. If they’re not handed off to enthusiastic and competent people when organizers leave, the group may become less active or go entirely defunct. Succession problems are a frequent killer of good groups.
This is a particular problem for uni groups, which are robbed of organizers every time one graduates. Good leadership handovers don’t always happen automatically–so here are some tips to make your handover go smoothly. These are mostly written with uni groups in mind, but some will also be of use to city groups.
You can draw inspiration or use these resources/templates to help you recruit, vet, and onboard new leaders of your group:
Leadership Team Application Form from EA at Georgia Tech (EA@GT)
For a list of organizer roles to recruit for (mainly applicable for medium- and large-sized uni groups):
Interview questions for vetting new organizers or intro fellowship facilitators from EA@GT
For Onboarding New Leaders:
Preparing for Leadership Succession Early
Long before you are in a position to decide on a successor, you can take steps to ensure you have a large pool of candidates to choose from when the time comes. University students should focus on recruiting first-year students so your members don’t all graduate at the same time. Let promising younger students take over responsibilities gradually in order to give them more leadership experience and get a better understanding of their fit for group leadership. You can also mentor someone to become your successor.
Even if you're not a university student, you can still focus on outreach to new members, and get existing members involved so they can get familiar with how the organization works.
Consider Leadership Transitions in your Committee Structure
Some uni groups have chosen to design their committee structure to help transitions. Here are some examples:
Having two co-presidents - Some groups have two co-presidents from two consecutive years run the group, each for two years, so that there will never need to be a total leadership handover.
Choosing a president with two years left to graduate and having an advisor - others choose a president from the group of members that have two years left before they graduate. That way the previous president becomes an advisor in their final year (this has the advantage of avoiding lessening the responsibilities of organizers in their senior years, during which they might be writing a thesis or searching for jobs).
Holding an application process - this can work well if you are likely to have more people capable and interested people than you have available roles in the committee, or if it is common at your university to hold application processes. The executive board applicants fill out an application form, get interviewed, and present platforms on how they envision the group for the next year.
How to Select your Successor
Choose next year’s leadership early—ideally at least 2-3 months before you hand over responsibilities to them. Be sure that they have a solid understanding of EA and of the group’s purpose.
If possible, choose someone who is familiar with the existing community and who has already helped you organize the group in some capacity.
What if you can't find a good leader to pass on the group to?
Sometimes, when organizers are graduating or leaving, they may end up not finding one or more interested people to take over in leading the group. It can be sad for your group to become inactive, but this does happen.
It is also likely better for a group to be inactive than to be led by a leader who is not fit to lead and organize the group, as they may give people a wrong and/or negative impression of EA. A better organizer may also come along later on and restart the group.
If your group cannot find an interested organizer and will become inactive (e.g. your group will stop organizing events), you can notify CEA's Groups Team at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can mark your group as inactive in our database and on the EA Forum, and we'll be on the lookout for if someone wants to restart the group there in the future.
The Handover Period
Ensure the new organizers are connected with the support they need from outside of the group:
Ask them to sign up to the EA Groups Newsletter.
Invite them to join groups for organizers on Facebook and Slack (invite link for Slack here).
Introduce them to the CEA Groups Team on email@example.com.
Connect them to the organization at your university responsible for supporting groups
Add them as an organizer of your group's page on the EA Forum, or have them fill up this form.
Have a period of time in which you can show new organizers the ropes by discussing decisions with them and letting them sit in on strategy meetings.
If possible, emphasise to your successor that you’re happy to be contacted by them in future whenever they want more support.
Ensure anyone else in your group handing over leadership responsibilities to a successor also meets one-on-one with their replacement to pass on any specific knowledge or advice.
How to Write Handover/Onboarding Documents
When possible, make handover document/s to explain in writing what your successors will need to know to run the group in your absence, or onboarding document/s for new organizers to know when joining your leadership team.
This is particularly important if your group’s committee is changing substantially, but it may not be as crucial when the new committee has been thoroughly involved. Make the document as readable as possible (e.g. by having bullet points instead of long paragraphs), so that your successors will be more likely to use them.
If multiple organizers are handing over their responsibilities, encourage them to each write their own sections for the document, and include everyone’s contact details so that successors can ask for further information.
Example Handover/Onboarding Documents
Each group will have different requirements for their handover documents, but these documents may act as useful models:
From university groups
From national groups
EA Israel employee onboarding (for a paid full-time or part-time organizer)
Potential Inclusions in a Handover Document
An overview of your group’s activities
Guidelines for using group communication channels
A typical timeline for running an event
Tips for running specific types of events
Example shopping lists
Write-ups from previous, one-off events
Guidance on writing emails and using your social media accounts
Suggestions for other local organizations to collaborate with
The protocol for applying for grants from EA organizations or other institutions
Suggestions of ways that they can continue to foster their own EA development
Suggestions of ways that the community can help them to maintain their well-being
Suggestions for how to prioritise between activities, as well as any other activities you would have run if less constrained
Lessons you’ve learned from mistakes
A reminder that good leaders shouldn’t be afraid to innovate and make improvements
Anything else you wish you’d known before you started
Student groups should prioritize succession planning by M. Burtell from Yale EA