Succession and handover guide

Succession and handover guide

Last updated: 10th June, 2024

Feel free to take a look at our EA Forum post for a more detailed research report on this topic!

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.

1. Preparing for leadership succession early

The first thing you should do when you become the main organizer of your group is to think about who the next organizer could be. 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.

If you are graduating within the next 1-1.5 years, succession should be a serious consideration! Our best guess is that by that point, it is key you work on answering the following questions:

  • Have you been able to identify when you’d need to leave your leadership position?
  • Can you map out 2 names of possible promising successors in the future, and explain why they would be good successors?
    • If you can’t right now, consider hosting more 1-1s and individualized interactions – see section 4 below
  • Have you asked these people, after providing a solid pitch on the value of organizing, if they might be interested in community building?
    • Here are some of the reasons we think group organizing can be helpful for the world:
      • University group members (and organizers in particular) have a strong track record of making significant contributions to EA priorities, both in and beyond meta work;
      • There is a talent bottleneck in many of the fundamental EA cause areas, and students are usually in the process of thinking through their priorities for their careers and lives. In this process, they are often open to exploring new ideas and communities, and have time to do so;
      • Universities are places where people build communities and deep social networks. These in-person social ties are important for people being more likely to take significant action on EA ideas;
      • Universities can have high concentrations of pre-screened talent
    • Here are some of the reasons we think group organizing can be helpful for the individual:
      • Opportunity to form deeper models on important problems;
      • Variety of experience: team managing, stakeholder liaising, communications and marketing, strategizing, etc.;
      • Wide network within EA;
      • For the reasons above, actual impact.

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.

2. 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.

3. How to select your successor

Choose next year’s leadership early—ideally one semester/term 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.

Starting even earlier will allow you to execute on this process well. For this purpose,

  • spending time doing 1-1s (or on other forms of interaction),
  • getting to know “intrigued-but-not-yet-highly-involved members” and boosting their interactions with EA,
  • and talking about the value of community building from a well-informed, thoughtful position

are all possible interventions that are worth doing quite early (at least 1-2 terms before you graduate). It’s also worth noting that being a good reference for your possible successors is another great reason to strengthen your own EA learning and understanding.

4. 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 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.

5. The handover period

Some of our key recommendations here are:

  • Start the onboarding process early: the senior organizer should aim to be in an advisory role, without having to intervene unless necessary, by their last semester/term.
    • How early to start the onboarding may depend on your group’s specific needs and timelines. For example, if you have a summer term before your last year of studies, you might want to use the summer to run this onboarding process and transition off the role once the academic year starts.
  • Have a reference document that provides an overview of what it takes to run your group (see section 7 below)
  • Spend lots of time working together with the successor during this handover period
    • This point is often neglected, with organizers instead choosing to focus on logistical aspects. Time working together allows for small fixes, logistical questions, and building overall motivation to community-build. That’s why this can be very correlated with overall transition success.
    • This may be the key driver in ensuring motivation is preserved between you and the successor.
  • Gradually phase out of your leadership role while maintaining an advisory role (a rule of thumb is to have this happen over your last year of studies)
    • You may start with handing over subsets of leadership work: fellowship processes, leading weekly meetings, etc. Try to set up a tentative timeline that is gradual and for which you have some capacity to advise, spend time working with the successor, and intervene when needed.

Some logistical advice you may also want to consider is:

  • Ensure the new organizers are connected with the support they need from outside of the group by making sure they’ve signed up to things on the Things we recommend you sign up to page.
  • Add them as an organizer of your group's page on the EA Forum, or have them fill up this form.
  • 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.

6. 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.

a. 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

b. 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

7. Suggested resources/Templates

You can draw inspiration or use these resources/templates to help you recruit, vet, and onboard new leaders of your group: