Five Good Ideas

Five Good Ideas to enhance succession planning and leadership continuity in the non-profit sector

Published on 31/10/2017

Traditional succession planning has always been a challenge in the sector, particularly with smaller organizations. All organizations, regardless of size, strive for continuity of thought and leadership – as it relates to Board, senior management, and program leadership. How can non-profit organizations plan for sustainability and stability, knowing that leadership will evolve over time, and that traditional succession planning models may not apply? In this highly interactive session, Robin Cardozo will work with an experienced panel and all session participants to collaborate in building a list of Five Good Ideas to enhance succession planning, stability and sustainability in the sector. Panelists are Anita Abraham, Executive Director of Meal Exchange; Helen Burstyn, Chair of Waterfront Toronto; and Michael Hidetoshi Mori, Artistic Director of Tapestry Opera.

Five Good Ideas

  1. People, culture, relationships: Work towards having a supportive leadership and shared relationships (Board, management, mid-level leaders, other stakeholders) before and during transitions, and continually make space for new voices and emerging leaders.
  2. Strategy, plan, vision: Clarify the vision, mission, and values of your organization, and ensure everyone contributes to a unified vision.
  3. Architecture, blueprint: Adapt the organizational structure and business plans as necessary to allow for successful transitions, building on what is in place, while also looking forward. Always ensure that there is, at a minimum, a solid emergency transition plan.
  4. Mobilization: Mobilize resources to move forward with the updated plans, while keeping all stakeholders informed.
  5. Diversity in all of the above: Seek out and embrace diversity of thought, experience, and networks, in all discussions about short-term or long-term succession planning.


  1. Building Leaderful Organizations – Succession Planning for Nonprofits (The Annie E. Casey Foundation)

  2. Sustaining Great Leadership: Succession Planning for Nonprofit Organizations (Tom Adams, First Nonprofit Foundation)

  3. Developing Leadership Talent (SHRM Foundation)

  4. Succession Planning in Small Organizations (Blog, DBPC Group of Companies)

  5. Succession Planning for Nonprofits: Managing Leadership Transitions (National Council of Nonprofits) 

  6. You’re It! (Alan Broadbent and Franca Gucciardi)

Robin Cardozo

Chair, Ontario Nonprofit Network, and former Chief Operating Officer, SickKids Foundation

Robin Cardozo is Chair, Ontario Nonprofit Network, and former Chief Operating Officer, SickKids Foundation. He has worked in senior positions in Canada’s not-for-profit sector, and has served on several Boards over the past 25 years. In 2012, Robin joined SickKids Foundation as Chief Operating Officer. Next to government, SickKids Foundation is the largest funder of child health research, learning and care in Canada. For twelve years before that, Robin served as Chief Executive Officer of the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF). OTF is one of Canada’s largest granting foundations, with a mission to help build healthy and vibrant communities in Ontario. Prior to joining OTF, Robin served for more than a decade as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of United Way Toronto. He currently serves on the boards of Centennial College and the Ontario Nonprofit Network, and recently completed a term on the board of Bridgepoint Active Health. Robin was born in Pakistan, and was educated in Pakistan and in Britain. In 2013, he was awarded the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario’s Medal of Distinction in Public Administration.

Anita Abraham

Anita Abraham is the Executive Director of Meal Exchange, an award-winning national charity that engages thousands of university and college students to address food insecurity and build sustainable food systems. Previously, Anita was the Manager of Knowledge Mobilization at Social Innovation Generation, a national collaborative seeking to address Canada’s social and ecological challenges by creating a culture of continuous social innovation. In the past year she has been both a CivicAction DiverseCity Fellow and an Inclusion and Philanthropy fellow with the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Other helpful things to know about Anita – she loves to scuba dive, has been a Toronto Raptors fan since day 1 and always appreciates a piece of good dark chocolate in the afternoon.

Helen Burstyn

Helen Burstyn has enjoyed a 35-year career in government, business, academia, broadcasting and community service. She is currently the Chair of Waterfront Toronto and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University in the Social Venture Zone and the Faculty of Communications and Design. She also chairs Evergreen and The Walrus Foundation, as well as serving on the board of a number of organizations, including the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the Toronto Public Library Foundation, and The Pecaut Centre for Social Impact (LEAP), an organization she also co-founded. Helen served for nine years as a Trustee of CAMH and is a past-president of the Canadian Club of Toronto, co-founder of Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto, and a founding member of Equal Voice. Helen is the author of Eleven Out of Ten: The Life and Work of David Pecaut. She is the recipient of the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Community Leadership and the Ontario Citizenship Award for Volunteer Service.

Michael Hidetoshi Mori

Michael Hidetoshi Mori is an award-winning stage director and the Artistic Director of Tapestry Opera in Toronto. In 2016, CBC named Michael and Tapestry Opera as one of ten artists changing the artistic landscape of Canada. Recently, for the world premiere production of Rocking Horse Winner (2016), Michael won the Dora Mavor Moore award for outstanding direction and helped the production garner a total of five awards at Toronto’s prestigious theatre awards, including best production. As a performer and music director, Michael has been nominated for a Juno Award and was awarded the West Coast Music Award for Classical Music with the Vancouver-based ensemble musica intima. A highlight among Michael’s most innovative projects is Tapestry Explorations (Tap:Ex), an annual staged concert experience that collides opera with other artistic forms. From incorporating opera with new elements such as physical theatre, turntablism, punk rock, Persian music, hip hop, and body politics, this series pushes the edge of the evolution of opera.